Deputies discovered two malnourished children crammed into a locked dog cage and two more smeared with feces and urine in a barn in North Texas Tuesday. A sheriff described it as the worst case of child abuse he'd 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 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, and the other two were filthy and only partially clothed, Akin said.
Andrew Joseph Fabila and Paige Isabow Harkings, both 24, were charged with four counts of criminal child endangerment, Wise County jail records showed. Harkings also was charged with aggravated assault.
Akin told The Dallas Morning News it's the worst case of child abuse he'd 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.
CBS Dallas reports they were put into foster care when they were released.
Deputies responded to a domestic violence call about a fight between Fabila and Harkings that lasted up to five hours and were speaking with them when they heard children's voices coming from the barn, the station said.
The woman is the mother of all four children and the man is father of one of them, Akin told the newspaper. Fabila had cuts to his face.
Neighbor Amber Jester said she wasn't even aware there were any children living there. "You'd think that, being right across the street we would know something," she told CBS Dallas. "You'd like to say you would do something. But you don't know. I guess you never know what people are doing inside their homes."
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.