An adoptive mother has been arrested for allegedly keeping teens labeled as "special needs" in deplorable conditions in a home outside Houston.
The seven teens, ages 13 to 16, were removed from the home of Paula Sinclair, 54, on November 23 after authorities received reports they were malnourished, locked in a room and struck with a wooden paddle, causing bodily injury. County officials first publicized the case Tuesday.
According to a police statement, the teens were kept in a single room in the residence that was found covered in feces. One of the teens had Down syndrome and was reportedly in a soiled diaper when taken from the home.
Sinclair has been the children's guardian since they were babies.
"I cannot think of a more deplorable situation than what we have learned in this case," said Sheriff Troy E. Nehls. "These people are taking advantage of a lousy situation at the expense of children who cannot fend for themselves. It is absolutely heart-breaking."
Sinclair and 78-year-old Allen Richardson have been charged with injury to a child and aggravated kidnapping. They were being held Tuesday at the Fort Bend County jail.
The two were arrested Saturday and each is being held on a $100,000 bond.
Authorities said it was unclear if Sinclair lived at the home. Her relationship with Richardson was also unclear.
Sinclair and Richardson told authorities they had done nothing wrong, sheriff's office spokeswoman Caitilin Espinosa told The Associated Press.
Detectives learned that all seven children would stay in one room at the home. When Paula Sinclair needed to take Richardson to see the doctor, the children would be kept in a closet roughly five feet, by eight feet in size, Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
"The closet already had clothes and boxes inside, so space was even smaller, and the adults were often gone so long that the children would urinate on themselves," the statement read.
When interviewed by the county's Children's Advocacy Center personnel, it was discovered that all the children have learning disabilities and none had ever attended school, officials said.
The children have been removed from the home and are being cared for by county officials.
The sheriff's office said Tuesday that they've received "countless" offers to donate to the teens' cause. "This does not surprise us at all that our community wants to help," the office wrote on in a Facebook post. "If you would like to drop off a gift card, we will ensure it benefits them by purchasing toys, books, or needed items."