by: Ken Lemon Updated:GASTONIA, N.C. —
A couple accused of locking their teenaged son in his room and giving him a bucket for a toilet made their first court appearance Monday afternoon.
Police charged Johnny Dickson and Joy Skipper, the woman who lives with him, with felony child abuse. The 14-year-old was locked in his bedroom without food and water and with the windows boarded, police said.
As the couple headed to court Monday afternoon, people who knew the teenager talked about how he would ask for food.
"He would sneak out and he would come over and say he was hungry. I would feed him," said Jerry Wilkes, who owns a store near the home where the teen was locked up.
"He was always a real mannered kid, saying, 'Hey, how you doing today?' Always smiling. Never did have no physical bruises that I could see," said David Green.
Police said when they responded to a tip Saturday, they found the 14-year-old suffering from dehydration. They said he was padlocked in his room and given a bucket for a bathroom.
The teen is currently in the custody of the Department of Social Services.
"He is free. He don't have to deal with that life anymore. I am glad to see him out of there," said Robert Roseberry, one of the teen’s friends.
One neighbor who did not want to be identified said the couple was trying to protect the child. Dickson and Skipper did not want him running away and getting out into a neighborhood where there was a lot of crime, the neighbor said.
That neighbor suggested checking the number of times police responded to the house. Since last year, there were two calls of a missing person.
Police said the teenager is suffering from a "serious mental injury" as a result of the abuse.
"There is never an excuse for mistreating a child," said Gastonia police Sgt. Gene Weaver.
The judge told Dickson he could not see his son unless it's a supervised visit.
Skipper covered her face as she left court. Dickson refused to comment on the charges. Both asked for court appointed attorneys.