CINCINNATI (AP) -- Just days after being freed from a nightmarish ordeal of abuse, three Ohio children who were chained to their beds and deprived of food are now relishing the seemingly mundane -- attending school, interacting with other kids and going out for ice cream for the first time, authorities said Thursday.
The children, removed from the home last week after one girl sent an email pleading for help to a teacher at their online school, are adjusting well after months of beatings, sexual assaults and physical restraint so severe they couldn’t move from their beds, Scioto County sheriff’s Capt. David Hall said.
"They’re lucky to be alive," he said.
The children have been living with a loving foster family and enjoying normalcy, perhaps for the first time in their lives, Hall said.
"They told us they never had ice cream or a milkshake before," Hall said.
In court documents obtained by The Associated Press, authorities describe "horrific" conditions the children were subjected to by their mother, stepfather and grandmother in their home in Wheelersburg, in southern Ohio’s Appalachian country.
Since at least May, the three adults are accused of tying and chaining the 9- and 11-year-old girls and their 8-year-old brother to their beds so they were "unable to move or get out of the bed" for weeks at a time, according to arrest documents filed in Portsmouth Municipal Court.
The stepfather is accused of raping each girl multiple times while forcing the other to watch, the documents said.
The children also described being forced to take their clothes off to be beaten with belts and paddles, and they had marks and scars to match their stories, Hall said. He declined to detail their scars but described them as extensive.
Hall said one of the adults admitted to tying up the children as punishment "because they were stealing food." Deputies found locks on the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards in the home, he said.
The children’s mother, stepfather and grandmother were arrested Tuesday on child endangerment charges. The Associated Press is not naming the suspects to protect the children’s identities.
Attorneys for the adults either declined to comment or didn’t return phone messages.
Hall said he expects more charges to be filed after a grand jury considers the case. Their next court date is Feb. 20.
During interviews with detectives, Hall said the kids were ecstatic to be able to choose snacks out of a vending machine.
"These little things we take for granted, they were just thrilled," Hall said.
Hall said he didn’t know which of the sisters sent the email for help, which went to a teacher at the Toledo-based Virtual Academy on Jan. 30.
"I’m sure like most kids she trusted in her teacher that she would get her help," he said. "We don’t know if the opportunity was there that maybe no adults were around. Or maybe she just had enough."
At the request of the sheriff’s office, the school declined to make the teacher available, saying she was a potential witness in the investigation.
The children’s stepfather, originally from the Virgin Islands, has denied the accusations and wasn’t cooperating with investigators, Hall said. He fathered only one of the four children in the home, a 2-year-old girl, who was not believed to have been harmed and joined her siblings in their new foster home.
Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.
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