The adoptive parents of three Peruvian children – at least two of whom have been diagnosed by a physician as victims of child torture – were criminally charged Wednesday with three counts of child abuse each.
Harvey County Attorney David Yoder said he anticipates filing additional charges – likely multiple counts of aggravated battery – against Jim and Paige Nachtigal after he and law enforcement conclude their investigative interviews into the abuse allegations and receive medical reports back from physicians who have evaluated the children’s health since their removal from their North Newton home last week.
North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan said during a Wednesday morning news conference that of the three children – two are 11; one is 15 – the younger ones seemed to have suffered the bulk of the abuse.
He said that in interviews with Exploited and Missing Child Unit investigators the children described being beaten with a cane and a board as punishment for acting “sinful” – for not doing homework, “for not behaving in certain ways” or for not praising their mother’s cooking enough, Jordan said – and being given only minuscule amounts of bread, fruit and water or meat-and-cheese sandwiches to eat “if they had been good and not sinned.”
Both of the younger children were characterized by law enforcement as being “severely malnourished” and bruised when they were placed into police protective custody on Feb. 11.
One, a boy, weighed 60 pounds and had a body mass index (BMI) of less than 1 percent, Yoder said. The other, a girl, weighed 50 pounds.
Neither had gained more than 3 to 6 pounds since their adoption by the Nachtigals from a Peruvian orphanage three or four years ago, Jordan said.
Medical staff examining the boy after his removal from the Nachtigals’ home also found signs that he had suffered a dislocated shoulder, broken ribs and a wrist fracture at some point, Jordan said. The boy also has a life-threatening heart condition that went untreated, Jordan said.
X-rays of the girl’s body revealed a leg fracture that caused her to visibly limp and recent breaks to two of her fingers, Jordan said. Authorities found no evidence that the children had seen a doctor for any of the injuries.
“It appeared that they were being isolated from the outside world,” including from family members, Jordan said. “It seems that things that went on in the home were kept pretty secret. And things that were disclosed about what was going on in the home, a pretty positive spin was put on it by Mom and Dad.”
The 15-year-old girl, Jordan said, seemed to have dodged most or all of the alleged physical attacks because she “knew how to navigate around” her parents’ emotions and “appeared to be well-nourished” when she was taken out of the home.
It appears Jim Nachtigal doled out the majority of the abuse, but that it was done at the direction of his wife, Jordan said. “Mom seemed to call the shots when it came to that punishment,” he said.
“The older girl is pretty traumatized at this point but she did verify that there was some pretty severe punishment toward the two younger ones, but she didn’t want to talk about it,” Jordan said.
He also said the children’s statements suggested religious beliefs played a role in the abuse. None are biological siblings.
“This is the first time in my career … I’ve seen a medical diagnosis from a physician of child torture,” Yoder said. “I didn’t even know there was a medical diagnosis of child torture until this case.
“So we take these charges very, very serious and we intend on vigorously prosecuting them.”
Jim Nachtigal, 51, and Paige Nachtigal, 49, were scheduled for a first appearance in Harvey County District Court on Wednesday on the child abuse charges, Yoder said. Neither had an attorney representing them in the criminal case at the time of the news conference.
The criminal complaint accuses the couple of “unlawfully, feloniously and knowingly inflict(ing) cruel and inhuman corporal punishment” on the children.
Each of the three counts carries a penalty of 31 to 136 months in prison and a maximum fine of $300,000.
The Nachtigals are being held in Harvey County Jail in lieu of $300,000. County Sheriff T. Walton said the couple was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of child abuse, aggravated child endangerment and aggravated battery following a hearing in a child-in-need-of-care case involving the three children.
Prior to their arrests, the Nachtigals had been seeking financial support from churches for ministry work in Iquitos, a city of about 371,000 in the Amazon forest. On his LinkedIn page, Jim Nachtigal indicated that he is chief executive of Kansas Christian Home, an elderly care and independent living facility at 1035 SE Third St. in Newton. Paige Nachtigal identified herself as a missionary at World Outreach Ministries on her LinkedIn page. The couple had four adult biological children, Jordan said. They are 25, 23, 20 and 20.
Jordan said as of Wednesday the duration of the abuse remained unclear but some of the children’s fractures that had started healing likely were six or more months old. He and Walton said his department began investigating the couple after receiving a report from one of the Nachtigals that their 11-year-old boy ran away from their home, at 401 E. 24th St. in North Newton, the afternoon of Feb. 5.
A Kansas State Highway Patrol trooper who was a part of the team searching for the boy found him walking alone and barefoot in a field and carried him to his patrol car, Walton said. When the trooper asked the boy why he’d left his home, he said he hadn’t done his homework and because “he had sinned.”
“He was afraid to go back home because of the sinning he had done, and that he would have to answer a lot of questions to his father,” Walton said.
The child did not disclose any abuse at that point and was returned to his home, Walton said. Jordan, the North Newton police chief, opened an investigation involving the 11-year-old boy on Feb. 8.
After talking to people who had known the children and learning that they had been isolated – including being pulled out of public school in 2014 – Jordan said there was enough evidence to remove them from the home three days later. Authorities who served a search warrant at the couple’s home Tuesday found a cane like the one the children described as one of the tools used in the alleged attacks and a 1-by-3 board broken in half in the trash, he said.
The younger children, Jordan said, were forced to eat in their bedrooms or standing up in the kitchen and weren’t permitted to have the same food for dinner as their parents or older sister.
Reports of abuse
Jordan said he also learned during the investigation that the Kansas Department for Children and Families had received numerous reports of alleged abuse or neglect involving the Nachtigals’ adoptive children. But, he said, his department has never been contacted about any of them in the more than two years he’s served as North Newton’s police chief.
He said he did not know what allegations were contained in the DCF reports. Asked about DCF’s involvement with the Nachtigals, agency spokeswoman Theresa Freed said by e-mail that she could not discuss specific cases.
“If DCF is made aware of safety concerns within the home, we work closely with law enforcement to ensure children are in a safe environment,” she wrote. “DCF does not have the authority to remove a child. If we recommend removal, that recommendation is made to the court, which ultimately decides if a child is removed into foster care.”
Jordan said he knew of one other time the 11-year-old boy had run away from home. “He was upset because he had to do homework,” he said, but didn’t know what role, if any, the Nachtigals’ discipline tactics played that time.