Kansas mom whose kids sang at Oregon standoff loses custody

Capitol Christian concert protests Oregon wildlife sanctuary shooting

The Sharp Family of Auburn, Kan., sang at the Statehouse Rotunda on Monday to protest the police shooting of LaVoy Finicum, killed in connection with the takeover of a federal wildlife sanctuary near Burns, Ore. Victoria Sharp, a member of the fam
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The Sharp Family of Auburn, Kan., sang at the Statehouse Rotunda on Monday to protest the police shooting of LaVoy Finicum, killed in connection with the takeover of a federal wildlife sanctuary near Burns, Ore. Victoria Sharp, a member of the fam

A Kansas woman’s children, who performed for armed occupiers in Oregon, will remain in the custody of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Odalis Sharp’s children had detailed to the Shawnee County District Court judge how their mother had beaten them, yelled at them and called them names. They talked about how their siblings would scream at the pain and how their mother would say she was trying to “beat the fire” out of them. She’d make them put pumps of hand soap in their mouths to wash it out. She’d cut them off from the outside world, the kids said.

Sharp, of Auburn, Kan., told the judge she wasn’t a bad mother. She wasn’t a monster. She loved her kids.

But by Wednesday afternoon, Judge Steven Ebberts had heard enough. There was a line between punishment and abuse, Ebberts said, and the mother had repeatedly crossed it.

Sharp has 10 children, but several are over 18. The younger children were ordered to remain in state custody. Odalis and Tim Sharp divorced in 2012.

Before the ruling, Sharp said she was a woman of God, who had raised her kids right.

“I think the real abuse is to take these children from their home,” Sharp said.

The mother of ten was told by a judge that she couldn't get custody of her children back. He cited emotional and physical abuse as the reason.

The pain was still fresh for three Sharp children who testified this week. She hit them, they said. She’d slap them. She’d call them names.

Sharp had two different rods that she would hit the children with, the kids said. One plastic. One wooden.

If they moved, Sharp told them, more swats from the rod would follow. She’d use the rod to spank them on their butt, but sometimes it would hit their thighs, the children testified. Sometimes it would break the skin. Sometimes they would bleed.

“I have to administer a spanking and I don’t want to hit you in the wrong place,” one of the children who testified said their mother told them.

The rods came out after the children had disappointed her, disobeyed a rule or frustrated their mother, they testified. The kids remembered standing on the stairs, listening as their mother spanked one of the other kids with the rod, yelling and screaming Bible verses during the punishment.

“C’mon, it wasn’t that bad,” one child recalled the mother saying. “Stop crying.”

The kids also struggled to read at their grade level.

The children would wake up by 8 a.m. and have Bible lessons and breakfast, they testified. They would practice music and do chores. They would have lunch and sometimes do school work, depending on the day. They would practice their music again, have dinner, and the day would come to a close.

As the three children finished testifying, Sharp told each one that she loved them. She never apologized for hurting them.

“I love you all,” Sharp said. “But it seems you have made your choice.”

At a certain point, the kids said the beatings and abuse became too much to handle. One ran away, and soon the others followed suit.

“We felt it was unsafe,” one of the teenage Sharps said. “We were not sure what would happen in the future.”

At the start of the year, the Sharp Family Singers found an audience. The kids practiced music daily, and in Oregon the group found an opportunity to stand out.

The family headed west and performed for armed occupiers who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The kids sang patriotic and gospel music for Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their supporters.

The trip to Oregon made the Sharps famous. It also gave the family a distrust of government and law enforcement, Sharp said, referencing the death of rancher LaVoy Finicum at the standoff. Years before, one of Sharp’s eldest children had been taken away by the state after reports of abuse and neglect. And earlier this year, the state received tips that the children still living with Sharp were being abused.

At the end of April, five of her children fled the home. The kids took the family guns from a cubbyhole in their mother’s room while she was in the shower and stashed them at the end of their driveway before going to the Shawnee County sheriff’s office. One of her other underage children had already run away.

A few days later during an emotional court hearing in May, the state was given temporary custody of the seven children under the age of 18.

If Sharp had to, she repeatedly said, she’d use her rights to protect her family.

That comment worried one of her older kids. The child couldn’t help thinking that if the state came back to the house, and the mother brandished a weapon, there could be a shootout. There was a sense of terror in that Auburn, Kan., home, the kids said.

There were evil spirits in the house right before the kids ran away, Sharp said. The kids were using bad words and disobeying her. Other adults had meddled in their lives, she said. Sharp knew her children were angry. Sharp said her kids were rebelling, acting out. They had lied to her, she said, so she’d punished them.

“I properly discipline them,” Sharp said. “That’s why they are excellent children.”

Sharp was one of the first ones out of the courtroom after the ruling. She passed her children as she left the courtroom. No one said a word.

Sharp has 30 days to appeal the judge’s ruling. The children’s father has asked the court if the children could come live with him. For now, the children will stay in state custody. The father’s request will be heard by the court later this summer

Standing in front of her rusted blue van in the court’s parking lot, Odalis Sharp said she hadn’t decided if she’d appeal. The charges were trumped up, she said.

“I think crying wolf, crying abuse, was their way out,” she said about her kids.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw