A Missouri couple accused of keeping their severely autistic, 6-year-old son in a makeshift cage soiled with urine and feces was charged Friday with endangering the welfare of a child.
The charges come more than two years after an anonymous call to a state hotline sent authorities to the O’Fallon home of Victoria and Terry Smith. Their son and his siblings were removed from their parents’ care but later returned, according to court documents.
St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar did not immediately respond to a message asking for information about the delay in charges and why the children were returned.
The Smiths, who have since moved to Elsberry, do not have a listed phone number or an attorney on record. Arrest warrants have been issued, and Lohmar said both are expected to turn themselves in.
Lohmar said authorities received the tip in December 2010, when the boy was 6. When police, paramedics and a caseworker went to the home, the child’s grandmother showed them to the basement, where the child was in a 3-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide and 6-foot-long crib covered with a plywood top and held together with bungee cords, tension straps and zip ties, he said.
The boy’s parents were shopping at the time, and his grandmother was watching him and his five siblings, ages 11 months to 8 years.
The child was naked, sitting in urine and feces, Lohmar said. According to court documents, the siblings told police their brother was often kept in the cage and they fed him hot dogs and chicken nuggets through the bars.
“We certainly understand that any parent is going to have stressful times, especially parents with severely developmentally disabled children,” Lohmar said. “But our view is that this was a completely inappropriate way to handle this particular situation.”
When the Smiths came home, they told investigators that they fashioned the cage for the boy’s protection — it was the only way to keep him from hurting himself when left alone, Lohmar said. They said they did their best to keep the cage clean and kept him naked so he wouldn’t accidentally hang himself with clothing.