A Texas grandmother and her partner routinely punished a 6-year-old boy by imprisoning him in their outdoor shed, often overnight, authorities allege.
Esmeralda Lira, 53, and her boyfriend, Jose Balderas, 64, face child neglect charges after authorities allegedly discovered the boy trapped inside the shed on Mother’s Day, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Law enforcement conducted a welfare check at the home shortly before midnight on Sunday, local media reported. Two other children were found asleep in a bedroom. However, authorities say they found the boy locked in a dark shed with his hands tied together by shoelaces after hearing noises coming from the structure.
The 6-year-old had been confined to the padlocked shed "for an extended period of time with no food or water," detectives allege, WFAA reported. The child was carried to safety, the affidavit stated. The boy told law enforcement it wasn’t the first the time he had been abandoned and locked in the shed. The outdoor building was allegedly stuffed with junk and was full of rats and insects.
A witness reported the couple to police, alleging they had three starving kids tied up at the home, the Dallas Morning News reported. It’s unclear what the woman’s relationship is to the 6-year-old.
The grandmother was arrested on May 10, according to court records obtained by Oxygen.com. Her partner was booked the following day. The couple was charged with abandoning or endangering a child with imminent danger of bodily injury. The three children have since been taken into the custody of Child Protective Services. They’ve since been placed in foster care, according to WFAA.
Lira forbade the child from using the bathroom and hosed him down outside, the child allegedly told investigators. He used a plastic bag to relieve himself, authorities allege, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Balderas allegedly admitted to law enforcement he knew of the abusive conditions but did nothing to intervene. Lira’s longtime partner allegedly told investigators the 6-year-old had been locked in the shed for approximately two weeks.
Lira and Balderas were both arraigned on May 12, according to court documents. They’re being held on a $100,000 bail, court records show.
“This is an ongoing matter,” Erin Hendricks, Lira’s court-appointed attorney, told Oxygen.com. Hendricks later said that attorney Hugo Aguilar will be representing Lira.
Hendricks confirmed her client is presently behind bars and declined to comment further on the investigation. Balderas has also been appointed a public defender. He has three outstanding warrants against him in Dallas, WFAA reported.
Some child abuse experts are concerned that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and school being out, a number of child abuse cases are going unreported.
“Our concern has always been children being with their abusers all the time and having no safe adult to confide in or a safe adult that can report that abuse,” Sarah Burns of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center told the Dallas Morning News.
Burns said her organization had seen a 50% drop in child abuse reports in the past six weeks, compared to recent periods leading up to the nationwide lockdown.