Parents accused of locking girl in chicken coop
BUTLER, Ga. – A Georgia girl told investigators she spent days at a time locked inside a small outhouse and a chicken coop, and had to wear a shock collar because she didn't do her school work, authorities said Thursday.
The 15-year-old girl's parents, Samuel and Diana Franklin, were arrested earlier this week on multiple counts of child cruelty and false imprisonment. They were released on bond, and declined to comment as they left the courthouse Thursday for what appeared to be a custody hearing.
"I've never seen anything like this personally," said Special Agent Wayne Smith of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. "If the allegations prove to be true, it's a very severe case."
The girl was adopted around 2007 and home-schooled in a house outside the small town of Butler, about 85 miles south of Atlanta, according to Smith. The Franklins live on a rural stretch of road sprinkled with a few homes and cow pastures.
The house is surrounded by a split-rail fence with prominent "no trespassing" signs at the entrance of the driveway.
The girl told investigators she spent up to six days at a time in the small buildings in the back of the property as punishment for such things as failing to complete her school assignments, Smith said. She said she had been put in the buildings for at least the past two years.
The outhouse was about 4 feet in length and width, and just a few feet high, Smith said.
"It was just big enough to sit in," Smith said.
The red chicken coop was much larger than the outhouse and chickens were being kept there Thursday.
The girl "might come out during the day a little bit, come in and shower," Smith said.
A neighbor refused to speak with an Associated Press reporter and told him to leave the property.
The investigation began May 25, when child welfare agents, acting on a tip, visited the home with the sheriff's department. That same day, Juvenile Court Judge Wayne Jernigan Sr. ordered the teen removed from the home.
Smith said he believed the Franklins were in court Thursday for a custody hearing. He was not aware of the outcome, and court officials refused to answer questions about the hearing.
On Tuesday, when the parents were taken into custody, investigators found a dog collar on a table in the home, Smith said. The girl told investigators its shock function was operated by a radio signal with a device similar to those used to lock and unlock cars remotely. It was being examined at a crime lab.
The girl lived at the home with another sibling, while two other siblings are older and lived away from home. The charges involve only the 15-year-old girl, Smith said, and there are no allegations of abuse involving the other three children.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Family and Children's Services said state law prevented her from answering questions about the case.
After the girl was removed from the house, Smith said she began to open up to investigators.
"Kind of what has happened is within a few hours of being taken out of that environment, a lot of this began to flow very freely," Smith said. "You almost have to remove the person from the threat of punishment before they begin to open up to you. That's normal, and that's what has happened here."
Martin reported from Atlanta.