Four people have been arrested after Oklahoma investigators say they found a starving 15-year-old living with animals in his family’s barn and eating twigs and sticks to survive, Lincoln County First Assistant District Attorney Adam Panter told McClatchy.
The boy’s father, stepmother and two adult siblings were arrested and the teen was taken to the hospital in serious condition, the Shawnee News-Star reported.
Panter said the boy may have been just another statistic if it weren’t for the actions of a concerned bystander who felt something was off.
“They saw the victim outside in the field and felt like something was wrong or suspicion, and they called (child support services), who then called our office for some investigators to assist them,” Panter said.
The investigators went to the property in rural Lincoln County, Okla., and made contact with the teen, after which Panter said they were “immediately aware he was suffering pretty terribly from malnourishment and physical abuse.”
Panter said the teen was living in the barn among farm animals and was within a week of starving to death when he was taken to the hospital by officials.
The 15-year-old weighed only 80 pounds, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by the Shawnee News-Star, and had reportedly been listed as home-schooled for the previous two years.
“His stomach was full of sticks, twigs, leaves and grass, which they still haven’t figured out how to remove,” Panter said. “Frankly, the first couple days he was in the hospital, we weren’t sure he was going to survive. He was in terrible shape, but his condition is improving.”
Inside the house, Panter said the family “had a fully stocked pantry, fridge, everything they needed.”
The teen told investigators his father had shot him in the leg with a shotgun, according to the Oklahoman. The Shawnee News-Star reported that the boy had shotgun pellets in his leg and had broken bones.
The boy’s brothers were arrested and taken to the Pottawatomie County jail on child neglect complaints. The boy’s father and stepmother were arrested on the same complaint and taken to the Lincoln County jail. The father also faces a complaint of child abuse by injury, according to the Oklahoman.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Human Services did not comment to the Oklahoman on the case, citing “case statutes.”
No formal charges have yet been filed, Panter said, though he added that he expected them to be finalized soon. Panter said a 4-year-old child was taken into protective custody but did not appear to be the target of any abuse.
Panter said the case was a prime example of how concerned citizens can help investigators stop potential crimes when they see something suspicious.
“These cases are extremely tragic ... in this case, somebody did call in, authorities were alerted and we were able to save this child’s life. Rarely you get to it right there in the nick of time,” he said. “We preach and preach, if you see something that’s concerning, report it. This can be avoidable, and thank God we avoided this child’s death.”