TAMPA, Fla. – A couple is being sought on child abuse (search) charges for allegedly torturing seven children who lived with them — pulling out their toenails with pliers, delivering electric shocks and striking them with a hammer, authorities said Thursday.
At least three children were severely malnourished, including twin 14-year-old brothers who weighed just 36 and 38 pounds each — about 80 pounds below the normal weights for their age, police said.
The seven children were removed from the home last month after one of them called an ambulance for a 16-year-old boy who weighed less than 60 pounds and had suspicious injuries on his head and neck. The doctors alerted authorities.
John Dollar (search), 58, and wife Linda, 51, who live about 70 miles north of Tampa (search), failed to appear at a scheduled Department of Children & Families hearing Monday. They are wanted on felony charges of aggravated child abuse.
The sheriff's office declined to describe the nature of the relationship between the Dollars and the children, citing privacy concerns. DCF spokesman Bill Daiuto said the Dollars were not the children's biological or foster parents, but he declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
The Dollars and the children moved from Tennessee to Florida in August.
Some of the children showed signs of physical injury, including missing toenails, which appeared to support their claims, Citrus County sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney said. Others said they were also tortured by electric shocks and were hit with a hammer, she said.
Five of the seven children told deputies they were forced to sleep in a locked walk-in closet because the Dollars accused them of stealing food and misbehaving, the sheriff's office said.
Tierney said the children did not attend school and no other adults had regular contact with them, preventing authorities from intervening sooner. Tierney said even two children who appeared not to have been harmed by the couple — another 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl — were not able to alert authorities sooner.
"My impression was that they were basically prisoners in this home," Tierney said.