A malnourished Indiana teen was found in her grandparents house locked in a room, living in her own feces.
Steve Sells and his wife Joetta Sells, who are the grandparents of a mentally disabled 15-year-old, were charged for neglecting the teen.
The unnamed teen weighed only 40 pounds when she was brought to a hospital where she arrived in serious condition. Police told WTHI-TV the girl was so malnourished her bones were protruding from her flesh.[fwdevp preset_id=”8″ video_path=”fBFrT1fE1Po”]
When she arrived to the hospital, Anderson Police Department officers said she was severely malnourished and covered in feces. Police said she weighed less than 40 pounds and bones were protruding from her body.
“If you see pictures of the victim, it’s very disturbing. We wouldn’t accept treatment of an animal that way, let alone a human being, a 15-year-old girl,” Sgt. Joel Sandefur said.
“She looked like a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp,” one APD investigator said.
Steve Sells, 58, lives with the teen, his wife and a 4-year-old child in a home in the 3400 block of Forrest Terrace on the southeast side of Anderson, police said.
According to the police report, the teen was abandoned by her mother and Sells is her court-appointed guardian. Sells was taken into custody on Monday and his wife Joetta Sells, who is not biologically related to the girl, was taken into custody Tuesday.
As part of the investigation, police searched the residence and found an upstairs room with a lock. Inside the room they found a mattress, a space heater, a bowl of oatmeal and a blanket. There was feces on everything in the room, police said.
Sells’ wife, 54, and a 4-year-old child told police that the teen had been locked inside the room.
A witness also told police that Steve Sells had picked up the teen and dragged her by her hair, RTV6’s Jack Rinehart reported.
Steve Sells admitted to locking the teen in the room “because she was so strong and she has once tried to attack him with a knife,” according to the police report.
Neighbor Stacy Rayford said she had no clue of anything out of the ordinary going on at the house.
“I don’t see how anyone could do that to a child. Had I known that was going on, police would have had a call much sooner,” Rayford said.
Neighbor Wyteria Woods said she didn’t know a teen was living in the home.
“I never knew (Sells) had a daughter that age because she was never outside the house. For the way he is getting in everyone else’s business, it looks like he should have been taking care of his own business,” Woods said.
Investigators said the teen had not been taken for a medical examination or attended school since Jan. 2012, and that she may have been locked in the room for four years.
In 2011, the Department of Child Services had petitioned a judge to have the teen removed from the home, but the request was denied.
Officials with DCS released the following statement:
The Department of Child Services (DCS) works with community partners, law enforcement agencies and the juvenile courts to protect children from abuse and neglect. When DCS determines a child needs services and court oversight, the agency will petition the local court to file a Child in Need of Services (CHINS). The court will then decide to accept or deny the petition. DCS must then follow the order of the court.
Steve Sells has not been formally charged, but he and his wife were being held in the Madison County Jail on preliminary charges of nutritional and educational neglect.
Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said that Steve and Joetta Sells could both be charged with criminal confinement, neglect of a dependent and battery.
Cummings has asked for a 72-hour continuance in the case before filing formal charges against the Sells.
The 4-year-old child living in the home has since been taken into custody by DCS.
Records show the couple obtained guardianship of the child in 2011 despite attempts from the mother, Amber Wise, to terminate the guardianship.
Anderson attorney Wesley David Schrock represented the Sells in the guardianship case and told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney that Wise is unrelated to the Sells.
“The only comment I have is I am shocked,” said Schrock when asked about the arrest of Steve Sells.
Records show in 2012, Wise was granted visitation of her child in the Sells’ home every Sunday for two hours.
Wise filed a request in April 2013 requesting to visit her child at the Children’s Bureau rather than the Sells’ home.
The guardianship case came to a halt in 2013 when the court was unable to find the child’s mother, Amber Wise, to serve her with paperwork regarding visitation of her child.