Police say a 15-year-old girl was kept for years in a Madison, Wis., basement, beaten and starved by a father and stepmother who often forced her to eat her own feces and drink her own urine. And, they say, her stepbrother had been sexually abusing her in the cellar since she was just 10 years old.
Moreover, it appears that child protective services had repeatedly been called to the home or otherwise alerted to something amiss.
On Thursday, the girl's father, Chad C. Chritton, 40, and stepmother, Melinda J. Drabek-Chritton, 42, were charged with reckless endangerment, child abuse and child neglect, according to the Madison State Journal. The girl's stepbrother, Joshua P. Drabek, 18, was charged with sexual assault and child abuse, the newspaper reported.
The girl, whose name is not being released, is in protective custody. Two other children have been removed from the home, although there were no immediate reports on their condition.
The girl, who escaped this month, told law enforcement authorities that she had been virtually trapped in the unfinished basement. Video equipment was trained on the cellar door, and it was rigged with an alarm that would go off if it opened, according to a police affidavit obtained by the Associated Press. The girl said that if she was caught eating without permission, she would have to throw out -- or throw up -- the food as punishment.
On Feb. 6, the day she escaped, she had been let out of the basement by her stepmother so she could clean up some papers. When the girl did not do so quickly enough, the stepmother threatened to cut her throat and throw her back in the basement. Fearful of what would happen next, the girl said, she escaped out a window, according to Madison.com
The 15-year-old was wandering the streets of Madison, barefoot and in her pajamas, when she was spotted by motorist Mike Vega, above. He stopped the car. Instinctively, he knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. She was so slight -- authorities later said she weighed about 70 pounds -- that he initially took her for an 8-year-old. The girl was bleeding from a gash on her face.
Vega called police.
"It was the most shocking thing I have ever seen," he told Madison.com. "I've never seen anybody look like that."
But the horror of what had happened to the girl was only just beginning to reveal itself.
A neighbor next door and another across the street each said they had called child protective services after catching a glimpse of the rarely seen girl -- and suspecting something was wrong. One of the neighbors, Mark Stuntebeck, said he made the call after watching the girl take out the garbage and then scavenge through it for food.
"She seemed to be hiding and munching on crumbs or remnants of something," he told the Wisconsin State Journal.
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Mike Vega points to the site in Madison, Wis., where he found a starving 15-year-old wandering the streets in her bare feet. Credit: Todd Richmond/Associated Press