Daniel Panico and Mona Kirk, Accused of Raising 3 Kids in Desert Shack, Speak Out

Crime - Inside Edition Staff

The couple arrested in the California desert on charges that their children were living in unsafe conditions have spoken publicly for the first time.

Daniel Panico and Mona Kirk face felony child abuse charges after police say they were raising their three children in a box in Joshua Tree National Park.

But speaking to KCBS, the couple defended themselves and the way they've raised the children, ages 11, 13 and 14.

"They were never in any danger," Kirk said. "Yes, it's messy. They never got hurt. They were always well-fed. They were the center of our lives."

Panico admits their home may not look like a typical family dwelling, but he insists they are "totally normal."

The San Bernardino Sheriff's Office says the property lacked running water and was covered in trash and human feces. Authorities added that, inside an abandoned trailer on the property, there were also 30 to 40 cats roaming freely.

Cops allege the children were living with an inadequate amount of food in an unsuitable and unsafe environment.

After Kirk and Panico were arrested, a neighbor who came to their defense told CBS Los Angeles they aren't criminals.

"We're in the desert," the neighbor, Mike Reynolds, said. "People come up here to get away from it all. People come up here to live off of the grid."

In the days since, friends and neighbors have rallied together to help raise some $20,000 to help the couple remain in stable housing.

"That is so wonderful, so encouraging," Kirk said. "We appreciate it and thank all those people."

The couple is due back in court on March 13, after which they are hoping to be reunited with their children, who've been placed in custody of child services.

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