Kansas City police this week found a mentally challenged 17-year-old boy handcuffed to a steel pole in his basement and curled into a fetal position on the concrete floor.
The teen told police he had been restrained for months in the basement while being fed only small meals, according to police reports.
Since no charges have been filed, The Star is not identifying the teen, his family members or neighbors. The teen is now in state custody.
Police officers visited his Northland townhome about 12:30 p.m. Monday to check on him after someone suspecting abuse called the Missouri Children’s Division.
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The teen’s stepmother answered the door and told police she would go downstairs to wake him. Police asked her to stay upstairs while they checked on the teen.
Police reports gave this account:
The officers went down a flight of wooden stairs into a dark basement.
“I didn’t do anything!” a voice from the darkness called out. “I didn’t do anything! I didn’t do anything!”
The officers switched on the lights and saw the frail teenager wearing dirty clothes and curled around the pole. The teen lifted himself to his knees. Officers noted that he was “very thin,” with sunken cheeks and a look of desperation in his eyes.
The officers consoled the teen and removed the cuffs.
The shivering teen rubbed his wrists, told officers his name and asked for his jacket and shoes. He had just a few thin blankets to lie on and use for covers, according to the police reports.
He said he had been locked in the basement since Sept. 27, when his father removed him from his high school, where he was a sophomore, reportedly to home-school him. At first, the teen could roam freely in the basement, he told police. But because he was hungry, he found a way out to get food, angering his father.
The father allegedly tried to restrain the teenager by handcuffing him to a bed frame in the basement with both arms outstretched. But the teen’s arms weren’t long enough, the teen told police. So his father handcuffed just one hand to the bed, according to the reports.
In November, the teen disassembled the bed and used a rail to try to break out of the basement to get food. His father then allegedly began handcuffing him to the steel pole, which supports the upper floor joists.
The teen told police his daily routine would start when his father woke him at 4 a.m., allowed him to use the bathroom and fed him a packet of instant oatmeal. The father would lock him back up until 2:30 p.m., when his father got home from work. His father would allow another bathroom break and serve one packet of ramen noodles before handcuffing the teen again. Later in the evening, his father would bring him two bologna sandwiches with a cup of water before locking him up for the night.
While officers were at the scene, the father and a 24-year-old brother who lived at the home arrived. The brother told police the teen was restrained in the basement because they had “let him upstairs” in December and he ate nearly an entire bowl of fruit in one sitting.
Police reported that the parents told them they restrained the teen for their safety and his. He allegedly had hit the stepmother in anger on several occasions. She reported a domestic assault to police in 2009 and two domestic assaults in 2010.
The parents told police the handcuffs were a temporary solution while they tried to figure out a long-term plan, according to police reports.
Detectives said they have to research the family’s background before submitting a case to prosecutors for review. Although the teen is considered an adult in Missouri, he is being treated as a child in the investigation because of his mental state. That means police must use a specially trained child expert to interview him.
Neighbors described the teen as friendly and childlike and said he didn’t bother anybody. They used to see him outside “all the time” last spring and summer. He would remain outside in rainstorms and boiling temperatures, from sunrise to sunset, and sometimes past dark, they said.
One neighbor told The Star that her husband found the teen sleeping in a patch of grass near a tree in front of his home at midnight one night. It was cold, so her husband gave the teen a blanket. The neighbor said when she left for work at 6 a.m., the teen still was outside sleeping.
Another neighbor said she saw the teen pounding on his family’s door one frigid day last year, crying and begging to be let inside.
The neighbor recalled hearing him yell: “I won’t mess up anymore!”
That neighbor said she almost called police, but after about 15 minutes, the teen’s parents let him inside.
When he was going to school, the teen usually showed up an hour or more early for the bus each morning, neighbors said. When school was out, neighbors would see him on the concrete front steps or sitting on a street curb, drawing, talking to himself or playing with neighborhood pets. He liked to dance like Michael Jackson and “fly” through the neighborhood by running with his arms outstretched like wings.
He always seemed hungry, neighbors said. A young neighbor once shared his sandwich with him. Other neighbors saw the teen digging through a trash bin for food.
About four months ago, neighbors stopped seeing him. One caught a glimpse of him, pale and frail, taking out the trash. That neighbor had heard the teen was going to move in with his mother soon, and that the teen wasn’t attending school anymore because he would run away instead of returning home after school. A relative told that neighbor that the family restrained the teen because the teen “attacked” the stepmother and ate raw meat out of the trash can.
Until recently, as many as six adults and a young child lived in the home.
No one could be reached at the home Tuesday. A Star reporter called the parents’ cellphone, but the person who answered hung up after the reporter identified herself.
Experts say parenting a child with special needs can be overwhelming.
“If you don’t reach out for help, it’s very easy to start making bad decisions,” said Lisa Mizell, CEO of the Child Protection Center in Kansas City. “It’s very easy to fall back on methods that are not appropriate.”
When bad decisions are made in baby steps, parents can often “normalize” what they are doing, in their own minds, she said.
Parents longing for control of a situation also can turn to controlling food, Mizell said.
Often, Mizell said, relatives and neighbors may see signs of neglect or abuse but don’t want to get involved or offend the parents, so they don’t report what they see.
But reporting their suspicions could be the only trigger to bring the family the resources it needs before the situation deteriorates beyond repair, Mizell said.