- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

WAKEMAN, Ohio (AP) — Sheriff’s deputies removed 11 disabled children from a home where some of the youngsters were made to sleep in cages less than 3 feet high, authorities said.

The children’s adoptive parents, Mike and Sharen Gravelle, denied during a custody hearing Monday they had abused or neglected the children. No charges had been filed as of Monday night, and telephones at the county prosecutor’s office were constantly busy yesterday.

“The impression that we got was that [the parents] felt it was OK,” Lt. Randy Sommers of the Huron County Sheriff’s Office told the press.

He said a baby slept in a small bed, two girls used mattresses and the remaining children slept in the cages.

The Gravelles said a psychiatrist recommended they make the children sleep in the cages at night, County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said. The cages, averaging about 30 inches high, 40 inches wide and 40 inches deep, were stacked in bedrooms on the second floor of the house, officials said.

The children, ages 1 to 14, were described as having conditions that included autism and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Deputies were called Friday by a children’s services investigator who visited the home and spotted a face peering out of one of the cages, Lt. Sommers said. The investigator was sent after the county received a complaint, said Erich Dumbeck, director of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services. He would not say who complained.

Some of the cages were rigged with alarms, Lt. Sommers said, and one had a dresser in front of it. One boy said he had slept in the cage for three years, Mr. Dumbeck said.

The children were placed with four foster families Monday and were doing well, he said. Mr. Dumbeck said he saw them hugging their new foster parents and they seemed relieved.

“We’re still trying to figure out what happened in that home,” he said yesterday. “We don’t have any indication at this point that there was any abuse.”

The family has lived in Huron County for 10 years but most of the children were adopted through other Ohio counties, and two through other states, Mr. Dumbeck said. His agency was trying to determine how the adoptions originated.

“I don’t believe there were any caseworkers checking in with this family,” he said. “These kids were home schooled and they lived in the country where neighbors were spread out.”

Mr. Dumbeck said it was not clear whether the Gravelles received adoption subsidies, which can range from $100 to $1,000 a month.

The Gravelles do not have a listed telephone number. No one answered knocks at several doors yesterday and the house was dark.

Lt. Sommers said the children were sent to a hospital for examination. Their conditions were not available.

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