Two parents near Rhome, Texas, have been arrested after police responded to a domestic disturbance call and found something unthinkable — four malnourished children under the age of 6 in terrible conditions. Deputies said that when they arrived on the scene, they discovered two kids crammed in a dog crate and two others who were covered in urine and feces.
Police responded to the domestic disturbance call on Tuesday at a local barn. According to the Dallas Morning News, police were called at 7:20 a.m. to investigate a family violence incident at the home of Paige Harkings and Andrew Fabila, both 24. Sheriff's deputies were speaking with the couple outside when they reportedly heard children inside the barn.
CBS News reported that the barn had been divided into "crudely fashioned" living quarters. And when the deputies went inside, they found three boys, ages 5, 3, and 1, and one girl, age 4.
The older two children were trapped in a locked dog crate, while the younger kids were covered in urine and feces and only partially clothed.
The crate was only 3 feet by 3 feet, and Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin told reporters that the parents of the kids had ensured that they had little access to food. "There was plenty of food inside the barn, but the refrigerator and the cabinets had been locked so the kids could not get in to get food," Akin said.
The Dallas Morning News reported that the kids were hungry and thirsty when police found them. Authorities gave them food and water before they were rushed to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth. Akin told reporters that he saw no visible injuries to the kids before they left for the hospital.
"Our deputies and our lieutenant fed and gave water to those children. And due to the malnourishment and other concerns ... emergency medical was called," Akin told CNN.
"I've not worked [a case] where children are locked inside a dog kennel, and I find that absolutely disgusting," he told the Dallas Morning News.
CNN noted that Harkings is the mother of all of the children, but Fabila is the father of only one of them. But both parents were arrested on four counts of endangering a child and Harkings faces an additional charge of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury — the report noted that Fabila had several scratches and abrasions on his face when they came to investigate the domestic dispute.
The kids are now in custody of Child Protective Services, but this might not have been the first time child welfare authorities were notified.
The Dallas Morning News reported that the kids were released from the hospital on Tuesday and will be placed into a foster home. But a spokeswoman from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services told them she has had contact with this family before.
Akin said he believes the family had been living in the barn for about a month and that the last time DFPS was called, the family was living in a different location. "I suspect they've been living in squalor in that barn house ever since they've been there," he said.
Both parents have been in jail since their arrest, but on Wednesday bail was set for the two — $60,000 for Fabila and $75,000 for Harkings, whose bail is higher due to her additional charge.
Speaking candidly, Akin told reporters that this was the worst case of child abuse he's seen in his 44-year-long career in law enforcement.
A neighbor who lived close to the family told CNN that she was completely in the dark about what was going on in the family's home.
"You'd think that being right across the street, we would know something," she said. "You'd like to say you would do something. But you don't know. I guess you never know what people are doing inside of their homes."