National News

Boy rescued from squalid, locked room

By The Canadian Press

LONDON, Ont. - A 10-year-old boy rescued in urine-soaked pyjamas from a squalid bedroom where he had been confined for up to two years expressed hope, authorities say, that he can now attend school.

After receiving an anonymous tip, authorities discovered the boy in horrific conditions, locked in a bedroom of his aunt and uncle's house in the southwestern Ontario city.

"There was a lot of garbage in the house," London Police Insp. Kevin Heslop said at a news conference Friday.

"There was a lot of packaging from fast food outlets. In the bedroom specifically there was feces, urine, the bed was soaked in urine, as was the child's pyjamas when the child was found and there was food waste throughout the house."

The boy had been locked in the bedroom for at least 18 months, possibly as long as two years, Heslop said. He may have been out "for a brief period of time" in 2013, he said. The boy was typically fed twice a day, fast food that was left for him to eat, Heslop said.

"The master bedroom had an ensuite bathroom so the child had access to a toilet and shower, however the room — in fact the entire house — was in squalid condition," Heslop said.

The boy's aunt and uncle have been charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life and forcible confinement. Their names are not being released to protect the boy's identity.

The boy was underweight, malnourished, confused and pale, Heslop said. He had been living with his aunt and uncle since 2010, when the boy came to Canada. He speaks "some" English, Heslop said.

He would not say what country the boy came from, but his parents do not live in Canada and investigators have not yet been able to contact them, he said.

"I don't know if they know," Heslop said.

It doesn't appear as though the boy went to school, he said.

His aunt and uncle also have a biological child, who the executive director of the local children's aid society described as a nine-year-old girl. There is no evidence the couple's biological child was ever locked in a room, Heslop said.

Both children were apprehended and taken into care, said Jane Fitzgerald, the executive director of the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex.

"We're now just getting to know this boy," she said.

"I think that we were happy to find out from him that some of the things that he wants to do right away is he wanted regular food and he said the one thing he really wants is to go to school. I think that's a good sign. He wants to re-enter the world."

CAS was involved in 2007 with an incident involving the aunt, a former partner and a teenager, Fitzgerald said. But CAS had never been inside this home before nor had they been involved with this family unit, she said.

Authorities got an anonymous tip from a community member about a child who was reported to be home alone late into the evening, prompting a CAS worker to visit the house Thursday afternoon, Fitzgerald said. Though no one appeared to be home, the worker saw a shadow behind drapery and contacted police, she said.

A teenager who lived in the house next door said she had seen a man and woman and even the girl on occasion, but not the boy.

The house had a playset in the backyard with a swing and a slide, which the girl could be seen playing on occasionally, but the boy authorities found was never seen, the neighbour said.

"We had no idea that he was up there. We had no idea that he was even in that house," the 16-year-old said.

"It seemed like a pretty normal house. We never would have suspected something like that."

Fitzgerald praised the courage shown by the tipster.

"Ensuring a child's safety is a community responsibility, so if anyone in our community have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is or may be in need of protection, please call us," she said.

"That is how we are able to protect children. We know it is not an easy call to make, but it can save the life of a child."

The case has some similarities to that of Jeffrey Baldwin, a Toronto boy locked for long stretches of time in a cold, fetid room by his grandparents and so severely starved that when he died in 2002, just shy of his sixth birthday, his weight was that of a 10-month-old infant.

In Jeffrey's case some of his siblings, who also lived with their grandparents, were not subjected to the same neglect and abuse. Like this boy, Jeffrey was also not enrolled in school.

Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, noted how the recommendations that came out of the Jeffrey Baldwin coroner's inquest earlier this year stressed that protecting kids is not only the job of children's aid societies, but is "every citizen's responsibility."

Elman sees many similarities between the two cases, but one big difference.

"I think that's important to recognize that in this situation a member of the public, it seems, came forward with a concern and to me that speaks to the recommendations about child protection not being in the sole purview of the child welfare system," he said.

"This person who made the call, who expressed a concern, may very well have saved a child's life."

— Written by Allison Jones in Toronto with a file from Diana Mehta.

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