Locked fridge left 7 kids scavenging for food, cops say; Pennsylvania parents arrested on neglect charges

LEVITTOWN, Pa. — An eastern Pennsylvania couple is facing felony child endangerment and neglect charges after a criminal investigation began when a neighbor reported seeing children taking items out of an abandoned trailer near their home, police said.

Following a nearly month-long investigation, Pennridge Regional Police arrested the children’s parents, ages 37 and 47, on May 19 and charged them with seven counts of endangering the welfare of children.

Police reported the children, ages 4 to 16, lived in squalid conditions in a three-bedroom mobile home in Sellersville, about 38 miles north of Philadelphia.

When police responded to the home, they found the children living with their parents and nearly three dozen animals including rats, dogs, rabbits and reptiles, the Bucks County Courier Times, part of the USA TODAY Network reported.

Bucks County SPCA Chief Humane Officer Nikki Thompson, said police found the animals in good condition.

The children were not, police. said.

USA TODAY is not identifying the parents to protect the children's identities.

Authorities learned about the alleged neglect after they responded a theft report on April 23 and found the couple's daughter in the front yard of a mobile home next door to where the theft was reported.

The girl would later tell police she only took a blanket to keep her pet rats warm because her parents didn’t have much money left.

Rotting teeth, poor eyesight and maggot-infested hair

According to police, all but one of the children showed signs of serious malnutrition and other medical issues including rotting teeth, low kidney function, COVID-19, acute viral syndrome, poor eyesight, ringworm, matted and maggot- infested hair and speech impediments.

None of them have attended formal school, authorities said, and some did not know their birth dates and had to be told how old they were.

The children said they were told it was school when their mother passed around a smartphone to each child, a source with knowledge of the case said.

As of Friday, the children remained in foster care, while their parents remained free on $10,000 bail.

'Unsanitary and severe disrepair'

Authorities described the home as unsanitary and in severe disrepair with disintegrating and destroyed walls and floors. There was no soap, toothpaste or other personal hygiene or cleaning products in the home, according to court documents. The children appeared dirty and unkempt.

The only “notable” food in the house was for the animals, and the refrigerator door was secured with a bicycle lock because their mother told police that the children were “stealing” food.

The family moved into the mobile home, with its white with faded yellow shutters and a small front porch, about 18 months ago. The home sits on a wooded lot in Green Top, a quiet mobile home community with six narrow streets.

The allegations shocked veteran experts in child abuse who wondered if no one in the community noticed anything out of the ordinary with the family, or, more likely, they didn’t want to get involved.

“This feels like one of those moments that leaves me speechless and head scratching,” said Cathleen Palm, founder and director of the Center for Children’s Justice in Berks County. “Any reasonable person is going to say how could children − not one or two, and not an infant or nonverbal or disabled child, but many and of such different ages be so far off the radar.”

Suspect a child is the victim of abuse or neglect? Call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

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This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Children found in filthy Pennsylvania home with locked refrigerator