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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Union County couple accused of handcuffing a boy to their porch with a dead chicken around his neck lived largely secluded with their children and animals, rarely speaking to neighbors and sometimes inappropriately dressing the kids, a woman who lives across the street told The Associated Press on Monday.
Wanda Sue Larson and Dorian Lee Harper were arrested Friday after a deputy found the 11-year-old boy. The couple adopted four kids and were foster parents to the 11-year-old. They appeared in court Monday.
Harper is charged with intentional child abuse, false imprisonment and cruelty to animals. He is held in the Union County jail under $500,000 bond.
Larson faces similar charges, as well as a charge of failing to discharge her duty as a public official. She worked as a supervisor with the Union County Department of Social Services. Her bond was set at $520,000. Both have asked for a court-appointed attorney, and they're scheduled to return to court on Jan. 7.
Joyce Bigham, 59, said the couple lived across the street on land once owned by her grandfather, but the house is set back and isn't visible. Bigham said she and her husband saw the children only when they ran in the street to retrieve their many pets.
"The family stayed secluded. The only time we ever heard anything was we would see the kids, the little boys, running up the road to get their dogs or to try to find one of the other animals that had got out," Bigham said.
According to Bigham, the family was always retrieving animals from throughout the neighborhood, including a donkey that once blocked her driveway as she was heading to work. There were also ponies and a pot-bellied pig, she said.
During a recent period of cold temperatures, Bigham said she saw the children outdoors wearing shorts.
"My husband and I discussed it a lot, how we really felt bad for the kids because any time we'd ever see them, their clothes, they looked pitiful," she said.
Bigham also said she and her husband once ran into the entire family.
"We saw them in the grocery store one time and all the kids looked like orphans, the way they were dressed," Bigham said.
The five children in the home have been removed and placed with a social services agency outside Union County because of Larson's job, according to the Union County Sheriff's Office.
Bigham said she would see Larson and Harper on the street, but they never communicated with anyone. She said she and her husband didn't know the couple's names before their arrest.
According to a news release from the sheriff's office, a deputy was answering a complaint about an animal on Friday. Bigham said the call involved the family's pot-bellied pig, which was loose. When the deputy reached the home, he found the boy handcuffed to the porch, Bigham said.
"We feel really bad to be this close and not know something like that was going on," she said.
WSOC in Charlotte reported that a woman who identified herself as a cousin of the 11-year-old and two other children in the home said the boy had been mistreated in the past.
"Wanda Sue Larson put this child on the phone and said, 'Tell your mother that because you have been bad you are no longer allowed to speak with your mother, you are not allowed to have a birthday, you are not allowed to have Christmas and you are not allowed to have any contact with any of your family or any of your cousins,'" Cindy Robbins told the station.