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A woman and her boyfriend are under arrest after two child abuse victims escaped their Texas home.
Zaikiya Duncan, 40, and her boyfriend, Jova Terrell, 27, were captured in Louisiana on Tuesday, hours after Texas authorities issued an Amber Alert for the couple and five of Duncan’s children, as released by Harris County Constable Precinct 5. The alert came after two more of Duncan’s children — a pair of 16-year-old twins — escaped their Texas home Tuesday before sunrise after allegedly being subjected to abuse.
The twins —- a boy and a girl — spent the next half hour going door-to-door in their Cypress neighborhood — about 25 miles northwest of Downton Houston — asking neighbors for help, as captured in doorbell camera footage published by CBS Houston affiliate KHOU.
Footage showed both teenagers shivering without their shoes, the boy shirtless, as they pleaded for help. Still dark, neighbor after neighbor rejected the children’s pleas, unaware of their circumstances.
Just before 5:30 a.m., one woman — who asked to remain anonymous — invited the children into her home. She provided the Houston outlet with photos showing injuries on the children’s wrists from their allegedly being handcuffed.
The children said they were starving.
“They were so skinny and so frail; they just looked like they had been through a lot,” said the Good Samaritan. “They told me that their mom kept them locked in the laundry room, naked, zip-tied from the ankles and handcuffed from the wrist.”
The woman called the authorities, who soon issued an Amber Alert with the help of the Texas Center for the Missing after visiting the victims’ home.
The twins’ five brothers, ages 7, 10 and 14, and another pair of 12-year-old twins were believed to be with Duncan and Terrell. All were last seen Tuesday morning, just before the 16-year-old brother and sister made a run for it, and were thought to be driving a silver Outlander Mitsubishi with Louisiana tags.
The victims’ 18-year-old brother was also believed to be with the family, though it was unclear if investigators considered him a victim in the case.
The rescued teens told investigators they were forced to consume their own waste in the laundry room and were denied access to a toilet, according to KHOU. They were described as boney and malnourished, marked with bruises and scars and at least one broken bone that had healed.
The woman who took them in told the Houston outlet that the children said they were allowed one sandwich at their home but “only if they were quiet the whole day.”
Before the accused couple could be located, Harris County officials announced they were “in the process” of charging Duncan and Terrell with injury to a child, a first-degree felony.
On Tuesday, shortly after 6:00 p.m., authorities announced both were captured by Louisiana State Police in Baton Rouge. But only one of the five missing children was with them.
“The suspects said they dropped the children off at a relative’s house,” said officials. “That is being checked out as we speak.”
A little more than an hour later, the Amber Alert was lifted when the children were found safe at the relatives’ house by the Louisiana State Police.
The whereabouts of the 18-year-old were not readily known, and requests to the Harris County Constable Precinct 5 were not immediately returned to Oxygen.com.
Louisiana court records cited by KHOU revealed Duncan’s reported history of child abuse-related arrests from the past decade.
Ten years ago, Duncan was investigated when her then-5-year-old child showed up to school with burns on his body, including on his genitals and feet — injuries doctors would later say were consistent with being scalded with hot water, according to KHOU.
During the 2012 at-home visit, investigators found a toddler and a 4-year-old sibling at the home without any supervision. According to KHOU, the toddler was wrapped in clothes and had his hands tied together.
Court records state the children were forced to sleep in a boarded-up closet, according to the Houston outlet. The mother claimed this was done to keep the children from “stealing food” from the kitchen.
Duncan also admitted she forced the kids to stay in a planking or push-up position for hours at a time, which would make the children’s hands swell, according to KHOU.
“How a mother could do this to her kids,” commented the woman who alerted authorities on Tuesday. “I feel like my tears are out of frustration, anger, and sadness.”
Authorities say the seven minor children have since been placed with Child Protective Services. Duncan and Terrell are expected to be returned to Harris County, Texas, to face prosecution.
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