CINCINNATI (AP) — An Ohio girl's emailed plea for help led to the arrest of her mother, grandmother and stepfather for allegedly beating and tying the girl and her siblings to their beds, sometimes for weeks at a time, officials said Wednesday.
The 44-year-old man arrested in the case is also charged with repeatedly raping his two stepdaughters, ages 9 and 11, in addition to abusing their 8-year-old brother.
"It was a horrific situation for the children in this house," Scioto County sheriff's Capt. David Hall said.
Investigators learned about the alleged abuse after one of the older girls sent an email to a teacher at the children's online school on Jan. 30, according to Hall. Authorities said the girl asked the teacher to call 911 because she and her siblings were being "tied to the beds and beat."
The children later told deputies that they were restrained with ropes and chains for weeks at a time, sometimes longer, and only occasionally untied to do online schoolwork. They also described being forced to take their clothes off to be beaten with belts and paddles.
The children had marks and scars to match their stories, Hall said.
"It's very sad to see what they were put through at such a young age, and we believe what they told us happened to them from what we've seen on their bodies," Hall said.
Though the children said they were only sometimes allowed to eat and were "very hungry," they didn't appear overly malnourished, Hall said.
Hall said the children's stepfather, originally from the Virgin Islands, has denied all the accusations and was not cooperating with investigators. He was the father of one child in the home, a 2-year-old girl, who was not believed to have been harmed.
Hall said one of the other adults is cooperating and told deputies the children were tied up as punishment "because they were stealing food" at the home in Wheelersburg, a town across the Ohio River from Kentucky, about 90 miles south of Columbus in Appalachian country.
The Associated Press is not naming the suspects to protect the children's identities. All three suspects had their first court appearance on Wednesday, when pleas of not guilty were entered on their behalf. The stepfather is being held on a $1 million bond, while the mother and grandmother are being held on bonds of $150,000.
All are being charged with child endangerment but Hall said he expects more charges to be filed after a grand jury considers the case.
Hall said the children have been placed in "a very good home with a good family" in southern Ohio and have started going to school.
"They're getting to eat now, they have loving people around them," he said. "They're just little kids, they like to love and be loved, and they deserve all that."