The parents of five children in Greenacres, Florida are now behind bars. On Sunday, Dec. 18, Donell Barron and Rikki Hart, both 34, were arrested after a sheriff’s deputy discovered their blue Toyota while on routine patrol. Although there have been stories about less fortunate people living in vehicles, what deputies found inside the car changed everything.
According to the Washington Post, the couple’s five children were also being housed inside the car. It has been reported that the children – ages 4 to 14 – were crammed inside the vehicle which reportedly smelled “similar to that of homeless camps,” the deputy said.
Raw Story reports the family had been going to Okeeheelee Park to bathe. They’d also been urinating in buckets they’d been keeping inside the car. It was later discovered that none of the children are in school and were being homeschooled inside the vehicle.
It was noted that both Barron and Hart appeared healthy, but unfortunately, the children were declining. Eating only one meal a day, mostly vegetables, the children, visibly lethargic, displayed symptoms of malnourishment.
All five children looked relatively clean despite the grim living conditions but were reportedly underweight. Barron’s oldest son, 14, only weighed approximately 50 pounds and his ribs “were clearly visible,” according to the police report. The boy reportedly weighed only five pounds more than his 8-year-old sibling. The officer took the children to McDonald’s after the arrests and they “ravenously ate the meals, as if they had not been fed in quite some time,” reports WPTV.
The children were taken to Palms West Medical Center by Greenacres Fire Rescue. Unusually high blood pressure was reported in one of the children.
After the arrests were made, Barron reportedly gave a series of contradicting stories during the interrogation. He told local authorities he was “not the property of the U.S. or any corporation” and he attended “three years of law school and practices law” before losing all of his money as a result of bad stock investments, reports the Palm Beach Post. It was later discovered that his claims were false.
But despite everything that’s happened, Hart’s mother believes her daughter is just embarrassed about everything that has happened. “I think she was embarrassed. I spoke to Rikki yesterday, and she was embarrassed,” said Rikki’s mom, Robin.
Shortly after the arrests of Barron and Hart, the children’s grandparents, Richard Hart and Robin Johnson, spoke publicly about the ordeal. Apparently, they were unaware the couple was homeless. They explained how the behavior isn’t normal for their daughter, who has always been a doting parent. Right now, they’re just hoping to understand how their living arrangements got to this point.
“Here I am sleeping in a comfortable bed and my babies had to be sleeping in a car all crammed up like that,” Richard Hart said.
“She was a very loving parent. She was a very doting parent. She took care of her children. How we get to this point, that’s a question we can’t answer.”
So, how did things get to this point? The couple’s downward spiral reportedly began about a year ago. After Barron and Hart both lost their jobs about a year ago, they lost their home in Port St. Lucie shortly after.
5 Malnourished Children Found Living in Car Parked at Florida Wal-Mart; 2 Arrested - KTLA https://t.co/fqdl5sLHeW— JNG Investments (@jng_investments) December 22, 2016
Over the next couple months, they moved in and out of hotels for months until they exhausted all of the money they had left. For the past two months, they’ve been living in their vehicle. Donell Barron and Rikki Hart have been charged with neglect. They are currently being held in Palm Beach County Jail in lieu of their $1,000 bail. The children are now in the custody of the Department of Children and Families.
[Featured Image by Greenacres Police Department]