Couple hides 5 children for years

Katherine - posted on 11/28/2010 ( 28 moms have responded )




YORK, Pa. – They lived outside society, hidden from the world in a squalid row house with no heat, electricity or running water. They had no birth certificates, no schooling, no immunizations or evidence of medical care — nothing whatsoever to prove their existence.

Police in this south-central Pennsylvania city are still piecing together how the parents of five children — ranging in age from 2 to 13 — managed to conceal them for so many years. And why.

"I don't know what would possess them at all," said detective Dana Ward Jr., who tracked down the children after a child welfare agency received an anonymous tip about the clandestine family.

Ward charged Louann Bowers, 33, and Sinhue Johnson, 45, with five felony counts of child endangerment. They are scheduled to be in court Friday, though Bowers' lawyer said she will waive her right to an arraignment. Both are locked up in York County Prison.

Bowers ran away from "a very chaotic household" when she was 16 and "didn't want to be found," attorney Ronald Gross said.

"I think, unfortunately, Mom's desire to not be found by her family impacted the children's growth," he said. "She realizes now, `I should have done it differently.'"

Johnson's public defender did not return a phone message seeking comment on the case, which was first reported by The York Dispatch and York Daily Record.

Years of isolation have taken their toll on the siblings. Now living in foster homes, "some of the children suffer health and vision issues," Ward wrote in an affidavit. "None of the children are at their expected education levels, and there are possible mental health issues."

Since their discovery, the children have been vaccinated and the older ones have been enrolled in school.

York County Children and Youth Services became aware of the family through anonymous tips in 2003 and again in 2007, but police said Johnson refused to cooperate with caseworkers.

The agency got another anonymous referral in 2009, this time from someone claiming to be a family member who had seen the children. The agency contacted Johnson again, but he remained uncooperative, court documents state.

That led caseworkers to obtain a court order granting them permission to enter the dilapidated house on South Duke Street. By the time they arrived, the family had fled.

Ward said it appeared that all seven family members had lived in a single room on the second floor. He said all the utilities were shut off. Rainwater came through the leaky roof and was collected in buckets.

Police tracked the family to a hotel outside York. Johnson was gone, but Bowers opened the door, her head concealed by a dark veil. The detective found the children hiding in a bathroom, three girls and two boys. They hadn't bathed and appeared unkempt. They left with investigators without saying a word — and refused to provide any information.

"They did say that they were not permitted to talk about the family or the living conditions," Ward said.

The lack of cooperation from either the children or Johnson and Bowers has stymied investigators' efforts to learn more about the family's circumstances.

The fact that almost no one knew about the children is even more puzzling because of the urban setting in which they lived. Neighbors say they never saw them, not even once.

Charlton Shaw, 56, a roofer who lives several doors down, said he was unaware of the children's existence until Johnson and Bowers were arrested. "I said, holy heck, how did they do that? You never heard a sound. No kids crying, no kids coming or going," said Shaw, who has lived on the block for 10 years. "How do you mess up the kids' futures like that?"

Gross disputed the notion that his client was hiding her children but acknowledged the family maintained a "very close network of individuals."

Gross said the children were home-schooled, but Ward said he could find no evidence of it. Parents of home-schooled children are required by law to register with the district in which they live, provide evidence of immunizations and follow approved curricula.

Gross said Bowers has studied more than 70 religions and adheres to a faith related to Islam.

"She essentially doesn't show her face, except to her husband," Gross said. He said the family opposes vaccinations "based on some beliefs about impurity and pricks of the skin."

He declined to comment about the apparent lack of birth certificates.

"She understands she had some shortcomings as a parent, but her love and desire to have the children and wanting to be there for her children has not changed," Gross said.

Gross said Johnson was in the midst of rehabbing the house on South Duke Street, and that the family spent most of its time in Washington, D.C. But Ward said he could find no evidence the family ever lived in Washington.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions from our end," Ward said, "because no one will talk to us."

Unreal. I just don't know what to say. How did they go unnoticed for so long?



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[deleted account]

im desgusted that it took childrens services, or any government dept for that matter, THREE tip offs before even investigating. The childrens suffering was prolonged by YEARS because of people not doing their jobs. neglected by the parents AND the law. sigh.

Charlene - posted on 11/30/2010




I took a course in Sociology and there was a whole section on cases like this and 'Feral Children'. It's unbelievable how many cases of this type of child abuse/neglect there are. :(
I can't even fathom what the hell goes through the minds of people like this.

Meghan - posted on 11/29/2010




So sad! "She understands she had some shortcomings as a parent..." Really??? "Shortcomings"????

[deleted account]

Wow. That's crazy. That's like something in a post-apocalyptic movie, a family being able to live so cut off from society while sitting right in the middle of everything! Crazy!

Rosie - posted on 11/29/2010




i watched that movie jackie-terribly disturbing. all of those stories are horrifying. like the one where a 19 year old and his brothers were starved by their foster parents. he was found rummaging through a garbage in the middle of the night by a neighbor. the neighbor thought he was like 7 and called the police, obviously concerned. while on the phone with the police the neighbor asked him how old he was and bruce (the kid) stated he was 19. he was starved so much he looked like a 7 year old. his foster parents claim he did it to himself. he refused to eat. fucking whack jobs everywhere i tell ya.
i hope these kids learn to live normal lives. :{

[deleted account]

That's so sad Jackie-Rae! I had never heard of it before now. I wonder what ever happened to the brother?

Jackie - posted on 11/29/2010




Did anyone ever see the movie "Mockingbird Don't Sing?" It was about a girl named Genie that was kept in a room with no lights or communication ever and was strapped to a potty seat over night, all night, every night.

It's, to this day, known as the worst case of neglect ever! It's very disturbing but this sounds similar.


Katherine - posted on 11/29/2010




So was I, Joy. I loved those books.

I feel for those poor kids because like others have said they will be separated and they need each other. There really should be something in place where brothers and sisters must stay together.

[deleted account]

Emma, I remember the Jaycee story. She was right there under everyone's nose for years and no one noticed.
Kate, I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. It's sad that people care so little.
I was OBSESSED with the whole Flowers in the Attic series when I was a "tween". All of the V.C. Andrews series books. Looking back, they were probably not age appropriate subject matter for a 12 year old to be reading.

Bonnie - posted on 11/29/2010




If they never opened windows to the house and the house is well sound proofed, it can easily be done. Very sad though:-( The kids had no life for that many years.

Krista - posted on 11/29/2010




But...but...parents ALWAYS know what's best for their kids!


Seriously, though, that's sad. It's like Flowers of the Freaking Attic. Those poor kids...I truly hope that they're able to get past this and develop normal, healthy lives.

Kate CP - posted on 11/28/2010




How did they do it? People only see what they want to see. If they don't want to see children living in squalid conditions then they won't. If they don't want to see a family living in shambles then they won't. It's easy to keep a child relatively quiet with enough force and domination. The rest of the secrecy relies solely on strangers not giving a damn.

Stifler's - posted on 11/28/2010




That bit would be easy I think, if you lived out of town. But in town? There was a girl called Jaycee someone who was abducted and lived with some sicko for 20 years in a tent in the backyard and was never found until last year even though neighbours reported things to the police a few times.

Johnny - posted on 11/28/2010




Very sad. And concerning that despite being reported to Child Services, they continued to evade detection. I met a young man once when I worked at Covenant House who had fled his family under similar circumstances. He had no birth certificate, no ID, he'd never been registered to receive healthcare anywhere. When Social Services completed their investigation, it turned out that he had 3 younger sisters also being hidden by their parents. They were not abusive, just nutty. But the kids had grown up completely isolated, the young man was even afraid to tell people about his family and sisters. He ended up staying at Covenant House and 2nd stage housing for many years, he was still there when I left. It was extremely difficult for him to integrate into society. It wasn't only the isolation, it was the paranoia and fear of society that his parents had instilled in him. I hope these young kids get to stay together (unlikely as Joy noted) and get a huge amount of emotional support.

Jodi - posted on 11/28/2010




Wow, I would have thought that to hide one kid, much less 5, one would have to live out in the boondocks without neighbors for miles. HOW do you keep a baby quiet? That's the scary part to me. Poor kids.

[deleted account]

Yeah, unreal sums it up for me too. No babies crying? No laughter or play sounds? That's incredibly sad. I hate to think of what they did to keep those kids so quiet. There's no way in hell I'd be able to conceal my ONE child's noises, much less 5 of them. I'd like to see a way for them to keep the kids together but, knowing what I know of the foster system (in Florida at least), they try but with large families like that, they usually end up having to split the children up. I would imagine that those kids need each other very much right now.

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