CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have charged two people with felony child abuse.
Deputies with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in Florida contacted CMPD about the abuse of four children who had been hospitalized.
Deputies investigated and found that the alleged abuse took place in Charlotte and that the two accused also lived in Charlotte.
The children, a 10-year-old girl and boys ages 9, 8 and 6, showed signs of malnutrition and physical abuse, police said.
"The doorknobs had been manipulated so that (the children) could not get out," CMPD Capt. Jackie Hulsey said in a news conference Tuesday morning.
"They were withheld food, they were withheld attention, and they were also occasionally physically beaten. The children, the information obtained from the children, is that there was plenty of food in the home, they were just now allowed access to it. They were not fed."
Police arrested Ronika Bell, 28, and Deron Cuthbertson Jr., 33, and charged them with multiple counts of felony child abuse for the prolonged abuse and starvation of the children.
Police said the children were living in a home with Bell and Cuthbertson during the time the abuse took place and that Bell had left the children in Florida with a family member.
Now the children are safe in their father's care.
Joshua Bell spoke with Eyewitness News about the moment he first found out his children had been starved and abused.
He said he hadn't seen his children since 2012 and was desperately trying to get a hold of his estranged wife to see them.
He never knew that they were in Charlotte, locked in a room and starving.
“It took everything in my power not to snap,” Bell said. “I just cried. I cried myself to sleep.”
He described the aching pain he felt in September when his four young children, Aniya, Zymir, Tasean and Dontre' arrived on his door step.
He said his estranged wife Ronika drove the kids from Charlotte to live with him in Pensacola, Florida.
Bell said he was horrified by their appearance.
“Kids were skin and bones,” he said. “You could see all their clothes hanging off of them, faces sunk in. My youngest, he had no complexion at all. He was gray."
Bell said he immediately tried to feed them.
“They tried to eat like every couple of bites. They just started throwing up. Their body just wasn't used to food anymore.”
Bell rushed his children to the hospital. He said the doctor told him all of them suffered from malnutrition.
Seven-year-old Dontre' was placed in intensive care for a week and went through two blood transfusions and that's when police started piecing together the story.
Bell said amazingly his children are on the road to recovery.
Click here if you are interested in making a donation to help the children.
Channel 9 spoke with people who lived near the couple’s Charlotte home on Craftsbury Drive. Paulo Mederos said he saw something outside the home Friday that made him feel uneasy.
“I saw a bunch of cops that we’re just walking around there in the property,” Mederos said.
Some neighbors said they would see the children play outside, looking frail and sickly.
Knowing the alleged circumstances, they wish they would have noticed and done something sooner.
“Kids are just terrified and they can’t do anything. They won’t even call the police just because they are so terrified,” Mederos said.
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