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Published: Tuesday, 9/20/2005

Parents used cages to punish 11 children

NORWALK, Ohio - The 11 children removed from a Wakeman, Ohio, area home 11 days ago were confined in homemade cages not just at night, but as punishment during the day too, authorities in Huron County said yesterday.

The Huron County Sheriff's Office issued a statement to that effect after a meeting yesterday afternoon involving that department, the county prosecutor's office, and the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services. The statement indicated authorities intend to gather more evidence before charges, if any, could be filed against Michael and Sharen Gravelle.

"[I]t is clear the children were treated in an unacceptable manner," the statement said. "Confinement in what the adoptive parents called 'boxes' occurred not just at night but as punishment during the day as well. Although most of the 'boxes' were not locked, the children were afraid to leave their 'boxes' at night even to use the bathroom because an alarm would sound and the parents would react in anger."

Of the 11 special-needs children, nine slept in boxes fashioned from wooden slats and wire netting; some had mats or blankets to lie on, while others had nothing, investigators have said.

The children, who range in age from 1 to 14, have been placed in foster care.

Huron County Job and Family Services received a call last month about the children. That mid-August phone call triggered the investigation. On Sept. 9, a caseworker went to the Gravelle home and saw a child in a cage. Three hours later, sheriff's deputies and family services officials arrived at the house with a search warrant.

The sizes of the cages varied, with the average being about 4 feet long, 40 inches tall, and 30 inches wide, a sheriff's deputy said last week.

Family services Director Erich Dumbeck yester-day referred questions to the county prosecutor's office.

Prosecutor Russell Leffler could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the sheriff's office declined to say anything beyond the information in the news release.

The prosecutor's office will consider reports from the other departments, plus medical and psychiatric records, which have been subpoenaed, the statement said. "The prosecutor's office is awaiting psychological and psychiatric reports and assessments to determine the extent of the emotional damage before filing the proper charges," the statement said.

Documents filed with the Juvenile Court state the children have conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, and pica, a compulsion to eat things not normally consumed as food.

According to records, 10 of the children were adopted by the Gravelles between 1997 and 2000, and adoption was pending for the 11th child.

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