Teachers described the 9-year-old as “a quiet boy, a loner,” police said.
But the boy was also mild-mannered, and a good student at the elementary school he attended last fall in Ackley, Iowa, according to a criminal complaint.
Still, teachers and school staff couldn’t help but notice his worrisome behaviors and deteriorating appearance in September 2017: The boy was constantly looking for food at school. Patches of his hair were falling out. His body weight was disconcertingly low, teachers told police.
Eventually, the 9-year-old boy confided in a teacher, saying that after school each day he was locked beneath the stairs at his home across the street from the school, where he lived with his father and his father’s girlfriend. That’s where he was kept all night — with no food and no bathroom — until school began the next morning and he was let out of the enclosure, according to the complaint.
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Teachers called the Iowa Department of Human Services, and when a state worker showed up at the boy’s home unannounced, authorities found exactly what the child had described.
There was an enclosure beneath the basement stairs, and the boy’s guardians — biological father Alex Shadlow, 30, and his girlfriend, Traci Tyler, 39 — said the space was where they were keeping the boy every night “because of his bad behavior and food-stealing,” the criminal complaint said.
The Hardin County Attorney charged Tyler and Shadlow with first-degree kidnapping on Wednesday, the Des Moines Register reports. The alleged abuse of the boy occurred from July to September 2017.
The child was taken from the home after the abuse was discovered, Hardin County Attorney Darrell Meyer told the Register, and he “has been safe for several months.”
The enclosure beneath the stairs was six feet by six feet, and the boy was locked inside for nine hours or more each day, authorities said. The floors were cement, but there were no pillows, blankets or bedding of any sort. No light could get into the basement, either; the boy was living in complete darkness. It had a “makeshift door” that was held shut with a lock, the complaint said.
Instead of letting the boy out to use the bathroom, he was given a “small tin coffee can,” which the boy had to use for all bodily functions, the complaint said. Sometimes the boy had to urinate directly on the cement floor where he slept, according to police.
Shadlow and Tyler told the boy a “dog had died” in the enclosure or was buried there, which police said “amounted to the knowing infliction of mental torture” on the child.
To keep the boy from getting food, Shadlow and Tyler kept the kitchen door locked, police said.
The boy was also hit with the handle end of a fly swatter, and the couple’s dog was urged “to bite and attack” him, court records said. The abuse left the boy with “sustained permanent scarring on his back and limbs, along with complications of post-traumatic stress symptoms,” police said.
The couple were booked at the Hardin County jail on Wednesday, online jail records said.
Bond for each suspect is $500,000, the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reports.