Siblings lived in filth, rarely left home before 15-year-old set fire, killing sister, state says

ROCKDALE COUNTY, Ga. — The parents of a 15-year-old accused of starting a fire that killed his sister will be able to visit their other children despite their deplorable living conditions.

The fire broke out at a home on Beaver Road in Loganville early Easter morning, killing a 10-year-old girl.

Firefighters initially believed that two children, ages 10 and 15, were still inside the home. When the fire was out, firefighters found a 10-year-old girl dead inside. The 15-year-old boy was found safe, but later arrested on murder charges.

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Channel 2 is not identifying either child because they are juveniles and potential victims of abuse.

Channel 2′s Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas was in a court hearing in Lawrenceville Thursday morning, where the 15-year-old was the only child present while a state worker described the family’s living conditions.

A state case worker said the children, who ranged in age from 8 to 17, were locked in their rooms for sometimes days at a time, not seeing each other or anyone outside of their family members for months on end.

“He stated that it was days, weeks and sometimes months,” a state worker said.

There was no working sewage in the home. The family used buckets with toilet seats on top.

Food was very limited and the children were malnourished and had had no medical or dental care. Lawyers for the 15-year-old told the judge that the teen was frail, walked with a gait and had seen a doctor only once in his life. He hadn’t attended a Georgia school since he was six years old or seen anyone but family members for ten years. The children’s mother said they were home-schooled.

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There were also reports of physical abuse. The 8-year-old had welts on his back.

“He later disclosed that they came from when mom whipped him with a belt,” a state worker said.

The three remaining children, ages 8, 12 and 17 years old are now with foster families as Gwinnett County police consider child abuse charges against the parents.

In the meantime, they will get to see the children during supervised visits twice a week.

On Thursday, Rockdale County police gave new insight into the 15-year-old boy’s state of mind after he set the fire.

The Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office said that on April 17 around 8:30 a.m., deputies arrived at a church in Conyers in reference to a runaway.

When Corporal Banks arrived at Bethel Christian Church, he found the boy to be acting bizarre and distressed.

Banks used crisis intervention strategies to talk to the boy, who told him that he started a fire at his home in Loganville.

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Rockdale deputies then called Gwinnett County police and confirmed they were conducting an arson investigation.

The child was transferred into the custody of Gwinnett County police.

Gwinnett County police have since launched an investigation into potential child abuse at the home.

A total of five children lived at the home, ranging in age from 8 - 17.

The 15-year-old is being held in a regional youth detention facility as his parents face a fight to keep their three remaining children.

State investigators said the children lived in deplorable conditions for years, and they believe that treatment will likely recur if they are allowed to remain at home.

A state investigator wrote an affidavit to take the three remaining children — ages 17, 12 and 8 — into state custody, saying, “The children have not been in school in years, the home has no sewage system, the children have been using buckets to relieve themselves, and none of the children have had a shower in possibly months. It is unclear how the children are impacted, as they have not been outside the home in years.”