Records: DCS investigated complaints of girl’s malnourishment in 2010

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Social workers investigated complaints that an Anderson girl might have been malnourished as far back as 2010 and first looked into her family in 2004.

But those cases were dismissed before the girl’s grandparents were arrested in December 2014, when the 15-year old girl collapsed in their Anderson home, nearly died and weighed less than 40 pounds, according to newly released documents obtained by I-Team 8.

The records, more than 200 pages in length, show that the Department of Child Services had investigated and dismissed complaints that the child, who was diagnosed with a mental disorder and was “skeletal and malnourished” in 2010.

In 2011, an allegation was made that the girl was being locked in her room and prevented from using the bathroom. There were other allegations about her living conditions: the feces in her bedroom, and others too graphic to print.

It wasn’t until December 2014, when the girl collapsed in the Anderson, Indiana home of her grandparents, Steve and Joetta Sells, that the teen was taken to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in grave condition. The documents obtained by I-Team 8 show she coded three times on the way to the hospital, was covered in feces, required several baths and had fleas.

Doctors determined she had pneumonia, cardiomyopathy and was severely malnourished.

She was placed and later removed from a ventilator and given a feeding tube. Her current condition is unknown.

The records show the teen was put on a “no publish list” by the hospital after two men and pastor came by the pediatric floor looking to visit the child in early December. The social worker at the hospital thought they might have been with the media.


DCS records obtained by I-Team 8 Thursday following a lengthy public records request show the agency first opened a case at the home in June of 2004. Details surrounding that case were not provided, but records note it was closed in 2009 without further explanation.

The records show DCS was first called to the home regarding the girl in September 2010 after an anonymous tip that the girl was “very malnourished, has lost a lot of weight and had a good sized bruise on her cheek.” The tip also described the girl as “skeletal.”

The report recommended further investigation.

Follow up visits were conducted at the home on Oct. 18, 22 and 26.

At the first visit, the DCS family case manager reported that Joetta Sells told her the girl was “upset about her coming and was trying to eat everyone’s food and not let anyone else eat because she was afraid she was going to be removed.”

The DCS case worker noted at the last visit to the home that month that her “was clean and appropriate,” and that the girl “appeared to be in very good spirits and hugged (me) goodbye.”

That month, records show St. John’s Hospital Clinical Dietician Amy Mercer wrote, in handwritten notes on the case, that she had “looked clinically and didn’t see any signs of malnutrition, except brittle hair, sunken eyes and dry skin.” The girl weighed 69 pounds at the time, and her lab levels were normal, Mercer also noted.

The case was also turned over that month to the court system as a “child in need of services”—or CHINS—case, where the Sells said the girl was not malnourished, ate four meals per day, and at times would “gorge herself on food.”

At the end of the 2010 collection of reports, DCS notes that “no removal is appropriate at this time.” The agency moved to dismiss its CHINS request on Nov. 8, 2010.


In October 2011, records obtained by I-Team 8 show DCS was called back to the Sells home, this time on a report that the girl was “being locked in her room for days without food or the ability to use the bathroom.” The tip also notes that there is “domestic violence in the home in the presence of children.”


Steve and Joetta Sells face several neglect charges as a result of this case and are awaiting trial.

DCS records show that Steve Sells denied any wrongdoing and said that the child refused to eat.

The Sells have previously declined repeated requests to speak to reporters.

In January, Steve Sells was hit with additional charges for welfare fraud for applying for medical benefits that were supposed to be used for the girl’s care, prosecutor’s alleged. That same month, Steve’s daughter, Crystal, was charged with battery in relation to the case.

Prosecutors called her an “active participant” in the alleged abuse and neglect of the girl. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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