Girl, 15, in CPS custody after allegedly padlocked in room

MSNBC News/July 17, 2001
By Susan Parrott

Hutchins -- For the second time in two months, investigators are looking into allegations of child abuse in the small town of Hutchins. A 15-year-old girl went to police Sunday after she said she escaped from her family's home.

Police planned to interview the family of the girl who escaped from her padlocked bedroom, where she allegedly was confined to control an eating disorder. The girl, whose name was not released, remained in the custody of Child Protective Services on Tuesday, one day after she was released from Children's Medical Center in Dallas, CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said.

According to Hutchins Police Chief G.E. Griffin, the girl's mother said her daughter had an eating disorder and was locked in her 10-by-10-foot room after meals to prevent her from regurgitating. The parents "just did it at night time after she had eaten" in order to control the girl's eating disorder, Griffin said.

The girl told police she escaped from the family's isolated 65-acre gated property in North Texas on Saturday and sought refuge at the home of neighbors before she was turned over to authorities Sunday night.

A CPS affidavit showed the girl suffered no serious injuries, but was fatigued from the heat, covered with mosquito bites, and had bruises on her wrists and ankles that were consistent with being tied up.

The girl also told CPS officials that her two older sisters frequently tied her up with duct tape when her parents weren't home, and that she often went without water for long periods. However, the affidavit said hospital staff found no apparent signs of an eating disorder.

Meisner said no charges have been filed, but an investigation into possible abuse and neglect allegations was underway. Griffin said at one point, the family fed her protein drinks when her weight dropped to 60 pounds. The drinks boosted her weight to 100 pounds, Griffin said.

Griffin said the family was deeply religious and rarely sought medical treatment. "They handle everything within themselves. They are very religious," Griffin said.

The family belongs to a group called the Believer's Fellowship, which has about 70 members and encourages its followers to have many children, Griffin said. "They'll tell you they believe in God, but we just don't know what they practice," he said.

Authorities said they were unsure how many people lived on the property located about 15 miles south of Dallas. The land is posted with no trespassing signs, and has a church and watchtower.

The girl's father is the pastor of the church and holds services on Sunday. The girl's 45-year-old mother told police she has 11 other children, ages 2 to 18. Griffin said the mother was cooperative.

The town of Hutchins drew national media attention last month when authorities discovered a malnourished 8-year-old girl who had been locked in a closet for several months in her family's mobile home.

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