TERRE HAUTE —
A shoeless, underweight 17-year-old boy who told authorities he had broken out a second-floor window and jumped to freedom directed police to a North 12th Street house in Terre Haute where, investigators believe, two adults had tied children to beds, denied them food and abused them.
Larry D. Russell, 39, and Nikki Lee Russell, 35, have been arrested. Each faces three counts of neglect of a dependent and three counts of criminal confinement. They appeared in Vigo Superior Court 6 on Monday, and will return Wednesday for filing of formal criminal charges. Both are being held in the Vigo County Jail with bail set at $100,000 each, cash only.
In a news conference Monday afternoon at the Terre Haute Police Department, Assistant Chief Shawn Keen said five children resided in the home — the couple’s son, a girl and her two brothers, and the 17-year-old boy. The youngest child was age 10.
Investigators were told the children had regularly been denied food as punishment; confined to a bedroom where they were roped and duct-taped; held underwater in the bathtub as punishment; punctured with scissors; had socks stuffed in their mouths and duct-taped so they could not yell; and had been beaten with rods for taking food.
According to the children, the punishment was the result of taking food without permission and other alleged offenses. The bedroom where the boys were confined had no bathroom facility, Keen said, and there were metal bars and wooden boards across doors and windows.
“From the photographs, their room doesn’t appear to be any different than a prison cell. There were no comforts, just beds,” he said.
“In my 19 years with the police force, I’ve never seen before what’s been described by these children, the injuries they sustained and the condition in which they lived,” Keen said.
He said it is unclear whether four of the children were foster children, as reported by the teenager, or whether the children had been adopted by the couple. Investigators would continue to look into that issue, he said.
“The children referred to them as foster parents,” Keen said, but “the Russells advised that they [had been] foster parents [and] that they had adopted all four earlier this year.”
The teenager told police he had lived with the Russells for nine years. The girl and her brothers had been with the Russells for four years, Keen said.
Indiana Department of Child Services spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland told the Tribune-Star on Monday that the children are not wards of the state. She said, however, that she could not comment on whether the children had previously been wards of the state. McFarland did say that in cases where children are placed with foster families, DCS workers have monthly visual contact with the families.
At 7:40 a.m. Friday, police received a request for a “well-being check” after a person without shoes was spotted at Third Street and Eighth Avenue needing help. Police could not locate the person. However at 8:30 a.m., police were again called after a passer-by picked up a person needing help near Third Street and Third Avenue and took the person to Union Hospital.
Police found that the 17-year-old teen — who weighed 93 pounds and who appeared to have been regularly denied food — had been taken to the hospital where an examination found ligature marks on his wrists and ankles, and blood on his face and in his ear. The teen reportedly told police he had been “backhanded” by Nikki Russell, causing his nose to bleed and the blood to run down his cheek and pool in his ear.
Keen said the teen told police that he and a brother had been tied to a bed with rope and duct tape, and that the teen had escaped from the home in the 2600 block of North 12th Street by prying boards off a window and jumping from the second-floor window. The teen told police that he was trying to walk to the Vigo County Courthouse to seek justice for himself and the other children in the home.
When he was found, the teen was wearing only a T-shirt and pajama pants. He reportedly said he could not walk much farther because his feet were freezing.
At the Russells’ home, police reportedly found ligature marks on another child, padlocks on bedroom doors, windows blocked with boards, and rope and duct tape on beds.
The teen told police that on Thanksgiving Day, he and two of the boys had been locked in their upstairs bedroom all day while the Russells, one boy and the girl ate a “Thanksgiving feast.” Later, the boys confined in the bedroom were reportedly given only two microwaved burritos and a half a glass of water as punishment for trying to get out of their room.
It was unknown how long the alleged abuse had occurred, Keen said. The 17-year-old child did not attend school. The other children attended school, Keen said, but it was unknown if any abuse or neglect of those children had been suspected by school personnel.
Police had no prior calls to the home. Larry D. Russell was arrested in 2006 on a domestic battery charge, but that case was dismissed.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.