Terry Smith (43) and his wife Victoria Smith (42) from Elsberry, Missouri have been charged with endangering the life of a child after it was found that they kept their 6 year old autistic son in a filthy cage in the basement.
Authorities began investigating the Smiths after an anonymous tip-off was made to the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline in 2010, when the boy was 6 years old. Authorities removed the boy and his 6 siblings from the couple, who were living in O’Fallon at the time, but were returned on a later date. The couple were then released because of “personal recognisance”. What the fuck is “personal recognisance”? Is that like if you say “Oh, I’m not a criminal, so let me go” and they just do it?
Now to the cage incident. When the police rocked up to the Elsberry home after a call from Grandma, they found the boy naked, in a small crib made of wood, lying in his own filth. He wasn’t wearing any clothes. Officers described the smell of piss as almost unbearable and that they could smell it when they came down the stairs. The crib’s dimensions measured at 3 ft (0.9m) tall, 3 ft (0.9m) wide and 6 ft (1.8m) long. Although the crib was small and filthy, it contained some toys and its occupant seemed contented. The crib had a plywood top and was held together with nice sharp cable ties and eye-gouging ockey straps.
Grandma was watching the other kids at the time of the raid, while the parents were out shopping. The other kids range from 11 months to 8 years old. Police stated that the rest of the house was filthy too, not just the cage. The doorknobs on the other kids’ bedroom doors had been installed backwards, so that the parents could get in but the kids couldn’t get out. The mother would lock the kids in their rooms if they got rowdy.
The parents told police that they had to build a cage because it was the only way to stop the kid from hurting himself or other people, and that the reason why the kid was nekkid was because they were afraid he’d accidentally hang himself if he wore clothing. They also said they tried their best to keep the cage clean. Here’s a hint: if the whole fucking basement reeks of piss, that’s not clean! I clean out my sister’s rat cage out when I can smell even the slightest hint of ratty odour, I can’t imagine letting anything get as bad as reeking of piss. The boy was originally put in the cage at night, but this extended to daytime use as well, when he became more difficult to control. A social worker pleaded with the family to put the boy in a group home, where he could get all the meds and help he needed. Mr Smith told officials that he knew the situation wasn’t ideal, but his goal was to try and keep the family together for as long as possible. I feel for you, Mr Smith. It wouldn’t be easy to give a child up, no matter how difficult they were. But there comes a time when your kid’s needs outweigh what you want. The cage may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it wasn’t a magical solution and it came with its own set of problems such as hygiene and safety.
The parents have been charged with felony endangering the welfare of a child and bail has been set at $2500 for each of them. If they’re convicted, the parents may be facing up to 7 years in prison. The boy was taken into protective custody but will be released back to his parents, who will hopefully put him in the group home that he needs.
I found this story kinda sad. I just couldn’t feel angry about the parents. Perhaps I’m getting soft, but from what I can gather, the parents were having a hard time dealing with their severely autistic son, as well as six other children who needed love and attention too. I can see why they thought a cage was a magical solution. The article did say that the boy seemed contented in there, and my limited knowledge of kids with autism tells me that they easily become overwhelmed by too much space (ie. playgrounds or even a loungeroom) so confinement might have been soothing to him. The father was trying to keep it all together, but he could see that the problems were just too big and that he was too proud to accept help. I just find that really sad 🙁 No one was killed, and hopefully the little boy will get the help he needs, and that his family will be willing to let him go to that help.