JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The adoptive parents of a 17-year-old boy weighing just 49 pounds are accused of forcing him to wear a diaper and sleep in a cage-like bed.
Duval County Judge Brent Shore ordered Wilson and Brenda Sullivan each held on $200,003 bond on a charge of felony child neglect and set their next court appearance for March 30. The couple moved to Florida from Akron, Ohio, in October.
A police report states the boy, whose name was not released, was starving and suffered psychosocial dwarfism (search) — a lack of physical and emotional growth caused by abuse.
"Just because a child is alleged to have a certain condition doesn't mean his parents are responsible for it," Lee Lockett, the parents' attorney, said after their court appearance Wednesday.
Lockett said he would seek a lower bail.
After receiving a tip to a child abuse hot line, child welfare workers went to the Sullivans' home on Jan. 10 and found the boy wearing a diaper and appearing developmentally delayed, a police report said. The boy was shorter than 4-foot-6 and weighed about as much as a 6-year-old, officials said.
Chief Steve Weintraub of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said the parents told investigators that the boy was forced to sleep in a criblike cage with a wooden lid kept shut with chains and a lock because he had behavioral problems and was overeating at night. The crib was the size of a twin bed with locks to keep the sides from being lowered.
The boy and two adopted 10-year-olds — all with physical or mental disabilities — were taken from the home and placed in protective custody. The Sullivans have no prior record in Jacksonville, police spokesman Rick Wood said.
Weintraub would not say if the younger children were abused, but the state Department of Children & Families issued a statement expressing concern about the children's condition. The boy has gained 27 pounds and grown a half-inch in two months.
"We were disgusted and outraged by the condition of the children at that time," the statement said.
Weintraub said the boy has been with the family 10 years and, according to an evaluation at the Children's Crisis Center (search), the youth was starving and suffering from psychosocial dwarfism in which children can hoard food, gorge and vomit.
Children with the condition have stunted growth and do not respond to growth hormones their body produces. The condition usually reverses when they are placed in a secure environment, according to information from the Children's Hospital of Denver (search).
Wilson Sullivan's sister, Ordrianne Sullivan, moved to Jacksonville a week ago from Akron, Ohio, to help her brother and sister-in-law through what she called "blatantly wrong accusations."
"They're painting a picture of my family as monsters, and they're not, they truly are not," she said.