DECATUR, Texas (AP) — Deputies on Tuesday discovered two malnourished children crammed into a locked dog cage and two more smeared with feces and urine in a barn in North Texas, in what a sheriff described as the worst case of child abuse he has ever seen.
The barn was "crudely fashioned" into living quarters, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said, adding that all the children were hungry and thirsty around 7:20 a.m. when deputies responding to a domestic disturbance found them on the property near Rhome, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Fort Worth.
"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. There were three boys, ages 5, 3 and 1, and a 4-year-old girl, he said.
The oldest two were locked in the cage that was just 3-by-3 feet (90-by-90 centimeters), and the other two were filthy and only partially clothed, Akin said.
Andrew Joseph Fabila and Paige Isabow Harkings, both 24, were each charged with four counts of criminal child endangerment, Wise County jail records showed. Harkings also was charged with aggravated assault.
Akin did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press, but he told The Dallas Morning News it's the worst case of child abuse he has seen in his 44 years in law enforcement.
"I've not worked one where children are locked inside a dog kennel, and I find that absolutely disgusting," he said.
The children were taken to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth for evaluation. A hospital spokeswoman declined to disclose their conditions.
Deputies were speaking with a man and a woman, both 24, when they heard children's voices coming from the barn, Akin said. The woman is the mother of all four children and the man is father to one of them, he told the newspaper.
A fight between the two is what brought deputies to the rural home, and the man had cuts to his face. They were arrested and each charged with four counts of child endangerment.
Marissa Gonzales, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said the agency has had contact with the family before, but at a different location. She said the children were being evaluated at the hospital and for the time being were not in state custody.