In O'Fallon, Missouri, neighbors are left wondering how they missed the signs after a 6-year-old boy with autism was found locked in a cage in his parents' basement. Police say they found him there after an anonymous tip in December 2010, and his parents -- Terry and Victoria Smith -- are just now facing charges.
According to KSDK, the cage was about 3 feet tall and 6 feet long. It was held together with zip ties and bungee cords, and the boy was found sitting in it naked in his own urine and feces. The Smiths weren't home when authorities arrived, but rather an older relative was there watching him and his five siblings -- all under the age of 8 -- who lived in the house as well. A sign on their front door warned of a "Severely Autistic Child in Residence" and said people should call to make an appointment rather than just arriving unannounced.
It's beyond horrific to think of that child having to live in this manner, and understandably people want to see these parents pay for their crimes. While charges were initially dropped, prosecutors said new evidence has been uncovered, and on Friday the couple was charged with one count of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child each. I don't doubt they did just that -- endangered this poor child's welfare -- but I still can't help but feel more heartache than anger here.
I know they probably don't deserve any sympathy. What these parents did was deplorable, but still ... we don't know what they've been through. Maybe the boy has run away before; maybe he hurt himself or his siblings when not contained; maybe they were just at their wit's end, and simply didn't have the education to know what to do and how to ask for help.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the couple told police they kept the boy there so wouldn't hurt himself, and they kept him naked so he wouldn't hang himself with his clothes. They said they knew it wasn't ideal, but that they were doing the best they could. Terry Smith told police he knew his son would eventually need to be placed in a group home, "but he was trying to keep his family together for as long as he could."
None of that excuses their actions by any means, but it does make me at least consider the possibility that they did have his best interest at heart ... as majorly messed up and horrifying as their means for carrying it out was. Most of all, it highlights the very real need for more resources, and more help for families who are raising children with autism.
What do you think should happen to these parents?
Image via KSDK