LOWELL, Mass. – Police responding to a report of a 3-year-old being locked in a sweltering, filthy attic were told by other children, "Mommy does this when she gets angry," a prosecutor said Friday.
Kristen Paquette, 27, was charged with reckless endangerment to a child and assault and battery on a child and was being held on $10,000 bail after arraignment Friday in Lowell District Court. Her family and attorney portrayed her as an overwhelmed mother dealing with an especially unruly child.
Police said the boy was naked, covered in urine and feces, and had several minor bumps on his forehead when officers acting on a tip went to Paquette's Lowell apartment Thursday. They estimated the temperature inside the attic at over 100 degrees. The door to the room was locked, and the only window inside was nailed shut, said prosecutor Dan Harren. Feces-covered child-size fingerprints were on the wall, he said.
Outside the attic was a similarly filthy mattress, surrounded by hundreds of flies, Harren said. Health officials condemned the apartment afterward.
Officers said another boy and a girl at the home told them Paquette took the 3-year-old by his arms "and dragged him upstairs to the attic." The children told officers such things happened "a lot."
Harren said the children told authorities, "Mommy does this when she gets angry." One boy told police his sibling "was bad, so Mommy put him upstairs and changed the door handle," according to the police report.
The prosecutor added in court, "When asked how long the child had been upstairs, the defendant admitted, `About an hour,' in a nonchalant manner." She said she had punished the child because he would "interrupt cleaning."
Court records show Lowell police also arrested Paquette in 2004, on a charge of assault and battery with a knife. The arrest — in the same apartment — came after Paquette allegedly cut a man with a knife; she claimed he had thrown her to the floor.
The woman's father, Alfred Paquette, attended the arraignment and said afterward that police were misrepresenting the situation. He said his daughter is a single mother who is overwhelmed by her four children — a daughter and three sons.
Alfred Paquette said the first floor of the home is clean, and the four children seem happy and never appeared abused.
"I was in the apartment yesterday morning. ... I didn't smell nothing. It just smelled like a home," he said. "My daughter isn't some evil monster that she's being portrayed to be. She's just a regular mom, and she has a child that needs special services. She's been trying to get him help and nobody's helping her."
Paquette said the boy in the attic was born three months premature, has chronic lung problems and exhibited behavioral problems despite reassurances from doctors who have examined him.
"He's like a child with ADHD on steroids. He's very hyperactive," Paquette said.
He said his daughter was raised in Lowell and is unemployed. She has been abandoned by the fathers of her boys, he said, and only has contact with the father of the girl.
He said his ex-wife is attempting to gain custody of the children and that other relatives have offered to take in his daughter.
Richard Paquette, the woman's uncle, told reporters there was nothing wrong with disciplining out-of-control children.
"You've got to try to get some kind of control. There's no abuse, no abuse whatsoever," he said.
Paquette's defense attorney, Kathleen Moore, told Judge Neil Walker, "It is clear this is a woman who needed help and didn't know how to ask for it and didn't ask for it."
Two of the other children, ages 6 and 9, were placed in state custody, as was a third child who wasn't home at the time. Alfred Paquette said he was with the child at Fenway Park, watching the Boston Red Sox defeat the Oakland Athletics.
The police report for the 2004 assault charge said Paquette told officers she cut the man "so as to fend him off." The man, 26-year-old Andrew Jackman, gave the same address as Paquette.
The report added: "At the hospital, Mr. Jackman stated that he would not be pressing charges and was very angry that Ms. Paquette was arrested."
The case was continued without a finding, although Paquette did receive probation and was ordered to attend the anger-management classes.