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Eleven Kids Found Living in Cages in Ohio

Sheriff's deputies removed 11 disabled children from a home where some of the youngsters were made to sleep in cages less than 3 feet high, authorities said.

The children's adoptive parents, Mike and Sharen Gravelle (search), denied during a custody hearing Monday that they'd abused or neglected the children. No charges had been filed as of Monday night, and telephones at the county prosecutor's office repeatedly rang busy Tuesday morning.

One official agreed that there was no sign of abuse.

"The impression that we got was that [the parents] felt it was OK," Lt. Randy Sommers of the Huron County Sheriff's Office told The (Lorain) Morning Journal.

He said a baby slept in a small bed and two girls used mattresses, and the remaining children slept in the cages.

The Gravelles said a psychiatrist recommended they make the children sleep in the cages at night, County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said. The cages, averaging about 30 inches high, 40 inches wide and 40 inches deep, were stacked in bedrooms on the second floor of the house, officials said.

The children, ages 1 to 14, were described as having conditions that included autism (search) and fetal alcohol syndrome (search).

Deputies were called Friday by a children's services investigator who visited the home and spotted a face peering out of one of the cages, Sommers said. The investigator was sent after the county received a complaint, said Erich Dumbeck, director of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services. He would not say who complained.

Some of the cages were rigged with alarms, Sommers said, and one had a dresser in front of it. One boy said he'd slept in the cage for three years, he said.

The children were placed with four foster families Monday and were doing well, Dumbeck said. He said he saw them hugging their new foster parents and they seemed relieved.

"We're still trying to figure out what happened in that home," Dumbeck said Tuesday. "We don't have any indication at this point that there was any abuse."

The family has lived in Huron County for 10 years but most of the children were adopted through other Ohio counties, and two through other states, Dumbeck said. He said his agency was trying to determine how the adoptions originated.

"I don't believe there were any caseworkers checking in with this family," he said. "These kids were home schooled and they lived in the country where neighbors were spread out."

Dumbeck said it was unclear whether the Gravelles received adoption subsidies, which can range from $100 to $1,000 a month.

A woman who identified herself as Sharen Gravelle's mother but refused to give her name said the children were happy and loved. "This year they have played and had fun and laughed like no other children have, which they have never been able to do," she said.

The Gravelles do not have a listed telephone number. No one answered knocks at several doors Tuesday and the house was dark.

Dozens of toys were scattered around the yard Tuesday. A black potbellied pig, chickens and dogs roamed the property. A storage shed housed seven bicycles piled on top of each other, while a box on the patio held numerous pairs of children's shoes and boots.

Sommers said there were no apparent signs the children had been malnourished or beaten, but they were sent to a hospital for examination. Their conditions were not available Monday.