A 54-year-old woman from Inverness, Florida, is being held in a Citrus County jail without bail after being accused in a case of child abuse.
Detectives said the case began when they searched for a missing 12-year-old boy, Fox 32 reports. Once found on Sept. 19, the boy described the abuse he suffered at home at the hands of Denise Hallowell, who has been charged with aggravated child abuse and child abuse without causing great bodily harm.
Police have not released the relationship between the boy and Hallowell. Hallowell is contracted out as a teacher for Citrus County Schools in their Renaissance Center, a charter school for at-risk youth.
“What looked like a typical runaway case, turned into a horrible child abuse case," Cpt. Dave DeCarlo from the Citrus Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division said. "We are just so thankful that this boy trusted us enough to come forward about what was going on inside his home. This is one of the worst cases of child abuse detectives have seen in a while.”
Detectives said the boy reported being locked in a bedroom most of the time with only an air mattress and a bucket to use as a toilet. The boy was without food or water for days at a time as punishment. He was only permitted to leave his room to do chores, which Hallowell reportedly made him do naked, according to Fox 32.
Another boy also lives at the home; he witnessed the abuse and would hold the alleged victim down as Hallowell beat him, according to an affidavit cited by ABC Action News.
After searching the home, detectives found the windows of the boy's room nailed shut and the door locked from the outside, with both a regular lock and a chain lock.
Neighbors were shocked by the charges, stating that they have never noticed any problems, ABC Action News reports.
During an interview with detectives, Hallowell admitted to spanking him but denied punching the child and kicking him in the groin. After running forensic tests on the boy, tit was reported that the victim had 3-inch bruises on his hips and interior arm, as well as scratches on his face and neck, according to an affadavit.
"When we interviewed the defendant, the reasoning for locking the child inside their room was for behavioral issues," DeCarlo said..
Both children have been removed from the home and taken into the custody of the state.
Photo credit: Citrus Country Sheriff's Office