A Tennessee couple allegedly buried their young daughter’s skeletal remains in their backyard after starving and confining the child to the basement of their home.
Michael Gray Sr., 63, and his wife, Shirley Gray, 60 are accused of a litany of child abuse charges following the morbid discovery, according to officials.
Authorities first found another one of the couple’s children, who had allegedly been abandoned and didn’t know where his family was, WVLT-TV reported. The minor detailed the allegedly abusive conditions he lived in and told investigators his parents had buried a sibling in the home’s backyard.
Investigators later uncovered the skeletal remains during a three-day investigation and excavation of the family’s property. The victim, a girl, had been buried alongside farm animals, according to the Knoxville television station. Her body was allegedly kept in a cardboard box prior to her makeshift burial.
Michael Gray allegedly confessed to burying the roughly 10-year-old child under a pole barn at the family’s home approximately three years ago. In 2017, the couple allegedly punished their daughter for stealing food by locking her in their basement and feeding her only bread and water, WVLT-TV reported. After a few months of imprisonment, she died.
Knox County forensic experts are now examining the skeletal remains. Anthropologists from the University of Tennessee are also assisting in the ongoing investigation, local media outlets reported.
Three other children, including a teen boy who allegedly was confined to the basement for nearly half a decade, were also removed from the home by state authorities. The children were isolated, appeared to have been “stunted in growth,” and didn’t attend school, according to an arrest warrant obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel.
"(Two of the children) appear to have no formal education," the warrant stated. "[They] were, in fact, amazed by what a refrigerator does when they observed one in their foster home."
The Tennessee couple has been charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated child abuse, three counts of aggravated child neglect, and a single charge abuse of a corpse, prosecutors said in a statement on Monday.
Michael Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray were arraigned on Tuesday, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. During the couple’s court appearance, a judge described, in troubling detail, the unsanitary conditions the children allegedly lived in.
“The house was filled with urine-smell, feces throughout the house, partially flooded basement, with a hamster cage and guinea pig, and the animal feces, it had overflowed out of the cage on the bed,” a Roane County judge stated, according to WVLT-TV.
The couple also allegedly locked their kids in a cramped wire dog cage, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
Prosecutors said they expected the couple will likely face further charges.
“There is still more forensic evidence to be analyzed by the investigators and forensics experts which will still need to be reviewed by the prosecutors,” District Attorney General Russell Johnson said in a statement this week.
Russell added that investigators had been working “round-the-clock” on the child abuse case.
The family, who is originally from Mississippi, have lived at the house since 2016, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
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