When social workers arrived, they found a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old trapped in two separate lice-infested cribs, with lids on top that had been screwed in to create makeshift cages.
It took social worker Kate Bonniwell 23 minutes to free just one of the children by using an electric screwdriver to remove the top, she said. The penned-in 2-year-old hissed and made “animal sounds” as Bonniwell worked to free the child, Delmarva Now reports.
There were bite and claw marks inside the cribs, police said.
“The children didn’t act like normal children,” Bonniwell testified at a pretrial hearing for 38-year-old Malista Ness-Hopkins, the children’s mother, who lives in Accomack County, Va.
On July 28, the day social workers visited Ness-Hopkins’ residence in Mears, Virginia, they didn’t just find caged toddlers: They found all five of her children living in deplorable conditions -- from dirty diapers and lice to insect bites. Broken glass and rotten food were strewn around the house. Plates of food were decomposing in the sink and bathtub, according to WMDT.
Ness-Hopkins was indicted by a grand jury Monday on charges of child abuse and neglect. Last month, she was released on $10,000 bail, according to WBOC, with a judge requiring Ness-Hopkins to receive a mental health evaluation and get treatment.
Besides the children who were caged at her home on July 28, there was a 1-year-old in a crib that didn’t have a top on it, as well as two other children — 5 and 6 — lying on dirty mattresses on the floor. They were all filthy, police said, with flea bites across their bodies.
When the social worker showed up at her house, Ness-Hopkins allegedly explained that she had confined the children because they had once run off and played with a container of Drano, according to AP.
“Outside, there was trash and debris,” Meghann Patterson, an investigator for the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office, said last month at a preliminary hearing, according to Delmarva Now. “Inside, the smell was overwhelming. The kitchen was littered with trash and cockroaches were all over the floor.”
Ness-Hopkins’ lawyer defended her at the pretrial hearing, arguing that there wasn’t any evidence that the state of the home was “directly harmful to the children.”
Ness-Hopkins told authorities that she had been a stay-at-home parent for 17 years at the time of her arrest.