A married couple living in East Tennessee are being accused of abusing at least four of their non-biological children under their legal custody, authorities said.
Michael Anthony Gray Sr., 63, and Shirley Ann Gray, 60, were arrested on Monday on charges of aggravated child abuse, including especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated child neglect, and abuse of a corpse.
The investigation that led to the discovery of the abuse began on May 22—after a worried couple called authorities about a child walking alone along a road. Roane County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene and found the child, Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson told Knox News.
A responding officer located the wandering child and learned he lives at the Grays’ house. Child Protective Services were called and Michael then went to the department, telling authorities there that there was a 15-year-old boy locked in his basement and a little girl was buried in their yard, reported Knox.
Detectives located the girls’ skeletal remains on May 23, Johnson said. She was believed to be about 11 years old at the time of her death. One week later, the remains of a second child were found buried near a home that is reportedly owned by Michael’s adult son, according to the outlet.
The couple is currently jailed on a $500,000 bond, Knox News reported. It wasn’t immediately clear whether they have an attorney.
The next court hearing of the case has been set for June 9.
Michael told detectives the first skeletal remains that were located on May 23 belonged to a girl he had in his care who had died in 2017 when she was around 11-years-old.
He said she was locked in a basement as punishment for “stealing” food, and she had mainly lived off of bread and water.
The three surviving children, aged between 11 and 15, have been removed from the Gray’s custody by the state Department of Children’s Services.
Authorities said the other children, two boys and a girl, appeared “to be stunted in growth.” Two of the children “were amazed by what a refrigerator does when they observed one in their foster home,” the warrants read.
At least one child was regularly put in a wire dog cage and Shirley claimed all four children were keeping up with their homeschooling requirements.
The Grays built a tiny concrete room under the stairs for punishment that measured less than 3 feet by 4 feet, the warrants said. Authorities who located the 15-year-old boy on May 22 said he was surrounded by feces, garbage, and mold.
“The entire house smelled of urine and feces,” officials said, reported Knox.
The warrants obtained by the outlet are based largely on interviews conducted over two and a half days with the three surviving children and the Grays.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.