A Long Island couple was arrested on Wednesday for child endangerment after leaving their four children at home with little food and no heat for nearly a week.
School officials in Central Islip notified police that the children, ages 4, 8, 13 and 15, were living without any adult supervision.
Police said Tulio Ayala, 34, and Maria Ayala, 31, left the kids on Feb. 7 with a nearly empty refrigerator and a single, small space heater. Authorities found the kids were using a gas oven to warm up the home as snow piled up outside.
Tulio Ayala alleged his mother was supposed to be watching the children, but it is unclear why both parents were gone for nearly a week.
"We were having marital problems, and so I told my mom, 'I'll be back in a few days - can you watch them?' And you know, she said she was fine with it," Ayala told CBS New York.
He claims he left the kids with $100 and food stamps.
“I left them with money in my own house, and she lives in the basement and everything, so they were not unattended,” he said.
He says, instead of looking after the kids, his mother called police.
“She never called or attempted to text me, and said look, ‘I don’t want to watch them,’” he said. “I would have come home.”
“I’m very upset. I just can’t stand how family can do this to you,” added Maria Ayala.
School officials say the grandmother works and couldn’t supervise the children.
The Ayala’s neighbor, Cathy Martin, told CBS that the parents are rarely home and their kids often appear to be hungry.
“You can tell when somebody needs something, and the little girl, Sasha — which is my sweetheart; they all are – she would always tell me they were, ‘I’m hungry,’ and I would always, just, you know, give her stuff,” Martin said. “I didn’t know it was to this level.”
Martin says their grandmother can’t afford to look after them.
Authorities say the children were unharmed and are now in the care of a relative.
The couple says they will fight to regain custody.