MONROE, N.C. -- Union County sheriff’s investigators and animal control officers returned to the home Sunday where an 11-year-old boy had been found shivering and handcuffed to a porch rail with a dead chicken around his neck Friday morning.
They spent several hours working on the property, including feeding and caring for the many animals left there, and even disposing of the chicken that had been left on a barrel once it was removed from the child’s neck.
Dozens of chickens, turkeys, geese, and even a peahen roamed the property among junked cars, bicycles, and appliances. Deputies fed two llamas and a horse that shared a pen behind the house.
Sheriff Eddie Cathey said two dogs had already been removed.
Wanda Sue Larson, a DSS supervisor, and Dorian Lee Harper, an emergency room nurse at CMC-Union, lived at the house with their four adopted children and the foster child the animal control officer found on the porch.
Both Larson and Harper are charged with child abuse, false imprisonment, and animal cruelty. They’re in the Union County jail under more than a million dollars combined bond.
"As bad as you think that house was on the outside, that's probably the cleanest part of that place," said Sheriff Eddie Cathey Sunday.
He said the smell inside the house took his breath away, where five children lived among dogs and feces.
The smell still lingered in the yard Sunday.
"There's no reason, no thinking of a common sense person would think anyone living in those condition could adopt -- not only a child --we wouldn't let them adopt an animal out of our animal shelter," said Cathey.
Sheriff Cathey said all five children in the home slept on the floor in a single bedroom, where the foster child was regularly handcuffed to a piece of railroad to keep him from running away.
Neighbors couldn’t hide their disgust as more details of the children’s conditions were revealed Sunday.
"Ugh,” said Jenny Wallace, who lives across the street. “I was devastated, that this type of thing is going on in this neighborhood."
Wallace said the family was reclusive, and she rarely saw the children. But Friday morning, she met one.
"I saw a little boy come up to my house and knock on my door and ask me did I see his pig," said Wallace. “He didn't look like he’d been abused or mistreated in any way."
That missing pig is what led another neighbor to call animal control, bringing out the officer who found the handcuffed child.
"Certainly our deputy was shocked,” said Cathey. “And when we talked to him and realized what had happened, we were very proud that he went the extra step in just a small animal case that he was investigating and discovered this child sitting there on the porch -- just pitiful."
Monday afternoon, the Union County Department of Social Services released the following statement:
Union County officials wish to express our concerns and compassion for the children who are victims of the abuse that was recently discovered in our county, and we wish to assure the public that this matter is being addressed with all deliberate speed. The children are currently in the custody of the social services department of another county, and they are receiving good care. None of the five children in the home of Mr. Harper and Ms. Larson were placed by Union County during the time that Ms. Larson has been employed by the Union County Department of Social Services.
The criminal aspects of this matter are being investigated by appropriate law enforcement officials. Further, Union County has asked that the State Division of Social Services conduct an independent investigation into all aspects of this matter as well as into the procedures related to Child Protective Services, Adoptions and Foster Care.
Due to legal requirements, Union County is limited in the information that it can disclose at the present time. This is due to the ongoing criminal investigation and to laws designed to protect the privacy of the children involved. However, Union County officials wish to reassure the public that the county is working with law enforcement officials and the state, with the view that those responsible for this incident will be held accountable, and that such an event cannot and will not ever be repeated in our community.