Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press
DAYTON, Texas — The eight children confined in a small, dark bedroom with a piece of plywood over the window included two 2-year-olds tied to a bed and a 5-year-old girl "in a restraint on a filthy mattress," the child welfare worker who discovered them said in a court document.
The 5-year-old was legally blind and "appeared to be in a daze," the worker said. The girl was among 11 children removed from the 1,700-square-foot home where authorities said more than 20 people lived in Dayton, about 40 miles northeast of Houston. The 10 adults in the home may have included a sex offender who listed it as his address on the state registry.
The children ranged in age from 5 months to 11 years. Two of the youngest had what authorities feared was pneumonia and were taken to a hospital, the court document said. Another child had a black eye and a missing tooth.
The children in the bedroom had been bound around the chest and tied to the bed, leaving them only 1 to 2 feet for movement, the document said. Adults in the home told investigators they "tie the children up for safety" at night and during daytime naps, but one of the children said he typically was kept in the room for up to three days, it said.
Child Protective Services spokeswoman Gwen Carter said Tuesday that three children who were 5 or older had not been enrolled in school. A month after the raid on the house, authorities are still trying to determine how the children are related and why they were there.
"Our primary concern was to make sure that the children were stable and safe," Carter said. All have been placed in foster care.
No one has been charged in the case, but a criminal investigation is in progress, police said.
Liberty County District Attorney Mike Little said his office would present a case to a grand jury next month, but he declined to discuss possible suspects or charges.
A man and three women who left the house Tuesday refused to talk to media outside. Relatives reached by The Associated Press declined to comment or didn't respond to phone messages.
Mark E. Marsh III, who was convicted in Michigan 15 years ago of criminal sexual conduct with a 15-year-old girl, listed the home as his residence on Texas' online sex offender registry.
Marsh served three years in Texas prison for failing to register as a sex offender, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said. Released in May, he moved to Dayton, where there was no restriction on his living with children, police Sgt. Doug O'Quinn said.
Marsh did not have a working phone number listed.
Records list his mother, Tanda Marsh-Smith, as an owner of the home. She was investigated in 2009, when authorities received a report that she punched one of the children in the stomach because he would not eat and threatened to hit him more, the court document said. Marsh-Smith could not be reached for comment.
The home had "No Trespassing" and "Private Property" signs in the front windows and a skateboard hanging from a front window sill Tuesday. A few cars and pickup trucks were parked out front.
Behind the garage, three other buildings were in the backyard — two small cabins with curtain-covered windows and the third resembling an A-frame shed. The yard smelled of animal feces.
Other properties in the subdivision were mostly well-kept. Dayton has about 7,200 residents, and the house sat in a largely rural area with farm and ranch land where horses and goats graze across the street.
Along with the children, two teenage runaways with a stolen car were at the home, authorities said. The boys, both 16, admitted fleeing from foster homes, smoking marijuana and driving a car they knew was stolen, authorities said.
One of the teens said "he heard from his older brother that this home 'was fun,'" investigators said in the court document.
Carter said the home was not registered as a foster home or day care.
Neighbor Wayne Hardin said he never saw the young children and had no idea so many people were living in the house. Hardin said he'd been told the people next door had a big family and routinely saw eight or more cars parked outside.
"I was shocked," said Hardin, who in the past had called police about loud music blaring from the house. "We didn't have a clue."
Merchant reported from Dallas.
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