Police: Malnourished teen locked in room, living in feces

(WISH Photo)

ANDERSON, Ind. (WISH) – A husband and wife are behind bars after police say they “severely” neglected his mentally disabled granddaughter.

Police said the 15-year-old girl weighed less than 40 pounds and her condition is worsening to the point that she might not survive. Police said the crime was happening in a home in the 3400 block of Forrest Terrace. They said she was locked in a room by herself, living in her own filth.

Steve Sells (Provided Photo/Madison County Jail)
Steve Sells (Provided Photo/Madison County Jail)

Police arrested her grandfather, 58-year-old Steve Sells, Monday. His wife, Joetta Sells, was arrested Tuesday evening after being brought in for questioning. Both face neglect charges but Joetta also faces a battery charge.

“It’s very disgraceful. As a parent I couldn’t imagine,” said neighbor Stacy Rayford as she stood outside her home. She lives just a few doors down from Sells. “I mean, and had I known it wasgoing on, (police) would had gotten a call much sooner.”

Police said Sells’ granddaughter was so malnourished her bones were protruding from her flesh. They said she was kept behind a padlocked door in an upstairs bedroom.

In court documents, police state there was poor heating, blood on the floor, and feces on everything in the room. The documents said there was a mattress, space heater, blankets, bowl of oatmeal, and a bucket in the room.

Joetta Sells (Photo provided by Madison County Jail)
Joetta Sells (Photo provided by Madison County Jail)

Another child who lived in the home told police the victim would stick her fingers around the door to try to get out. In the documents, he also told police the teen was physically abused and that Sells would drag the victim by her hair.

“If you see the pictures of the victim, it’s very disturbing,” said Detective Joel Sandefur, Anderson Police Department. “We wouldn’t accept treatment of an animal this way, let alone a human being, let alone someone that’s 15 years of age.”

Police were called after the victim was taken to St. Vincent Regional Hospital in Anderson on Monday. But police said her condition was so bad, medical staff had her airlifted to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

“It’s disgusting, it makes me feel like, why would you want to do that to your child,” questioned neighbor Wyteria Woods.

In court documents, Steve Sells said he gained custody of his granddaughter after his daughter, the biological mother, abandoned her. Sells told police the girl had a “chromosome problem in her brain which caused her disorder” and that she had fallen, which worsened her condition.

“Fifteen-year-old girl that weighs less than 40 pounds, that’s hard for us to believe that this is because of a medical condition,” said Det. Sandefur.

In the documents, Sells admitted to locking his granddaughter in the room but that it was to “protect himself” from her because she was very strong and had come at him with a knife before. He told police he weighed more than 200 pounds.

In the documents, Sells said his granddaughter hasn’t had a medical exam since Jan. 2012. He said he used to feed her Boost which was paid for by Medicaid. He said her Medicaid ran out a year ago and that she hasn’t been fed Boost since.

Police said the investigation is far from over. Detectives need to look into the victim’s medical records and whether or not she was given the opportunity to go to school.

They said the Indiana Department of Child Services has had contact with the family in the past, but they didn’t specify when or why. Police said the 4-year-old that was living in the home was taken by DCS.

The Madison County Prosecutor’s Office said it’s possible the charges against Sells and his wife could become more severe if the teen doesn’t survive.

Sells will be arraigned Friday. No court date has been set yet for his wife.

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