Teen found malnourished, close to death after held in basement by adoptive parents

Cynthia and Richard Kelly (WIAT photo)
Cynthia and Richard Kelly (WIAT photo)

HELENA, Ala. (WIAT) — A 14-year-old boy is gravely ill at a local hospital after being deprived of food and medical attention and kept in isolation for an extended period of time, allegedly by his adoptive parents.

Helena police were alerted to the child abuse case early Sunday morning by Shelby County DHR who were called by a hospital after admitting a severely and chronically malnourished and dehydrated child suffering from acute respiratory distress, shock, hypothermia, hypothyroid disorder and close to death.

Chief Pete Folmar says the child remains gravely ill and will face a long, difficult recovery and uncertain prognosis. The boy’s adoptive parents, Cynthia and Richard Kelly, were arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse Monday after an investigation began.

“You just struggle to wrap your head around it,” Folmar said. “Like most of the people here at the Helena police department, I’m a parent, and you just struggle to wrap your head around it.”

Folmar told CBS42 Monday night that the boy had been kept in the basement of the Kelly’s Helena home. Tuesday, he was asked if the victim was special needs–he replied the child is “challenged.” He described the boy as undersized when asked about his weight and age–he said he didn’t know his exact weight but that the teen boy appeared to weigh around 55 pounds.

Folmar said there were two other young adults living in the house. The female is an adopted sibling, the male is an acquaintance. They are 19 and 21, and are unharmed and will not be charged with anything per Alabama code. Folmar said police don’t believe the adopted sibling was ever abused by the Kellys.

Police told CBS42 News that they believe the victim and his adopted sibling were both homeschooled.

Neighbors tell us they had no idea what was happening. The described the Kellys as quiet neighbors who kept mostly to themselves. They told us they had seen the teenage boy out cutting the yard, but he looked far too young to be doing it. Mostly, the community is just in shock.

“We’re just absolutely sick that this child was over there in the basement like that starved to death and being held captive. None of us knew it. Nobody knew that,” neighbor Debbie Palmer said. “I mean I can promise you if we did something would’ve been done. I would’ve called the Helena police like that if I had known.”

Another resident said she had a feeling something wasn’t right, and wishes she had acted on that feeling and reached out, but that she never would have guessed it was something so horrible.

The investigation is still ongoing, and Folmar explained there are many things he cannot say at this time. The Kellys are being held in the Shelby County Jail on bond of $1 million each.

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