Eight children and teens linked to the accused Philadelphia basement captors were in protective custody on Wednesday, including a teen so badly abused that “it makes you want to cry,” the city’s police commissioner said.
Four accused captors are charged with kidnapping four mentally handicapped adults, each with the capacity of a 10-year-old child, found in a basement dungeon in what authorities said was a scheme to steal their Social Security disability checks.
The four adults were discovered malnourished and imprisoned in the filthy basement room over the weekend. One was chained to a furnace. Authorities said two of those held had been captive for roughly 11 years.
Police said they also had eight children and teens in protective custody, the youngest a 2-year-old, and were working to determine the nature of their relationships with both the suspects and captives.
One of the teens, Beatrice Weston, 19, is a niece of suspect Linda Ann Weston and had been beaten and tortured, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said. She had been reported missing in 2009.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said he was not certain the word “horrific” was adequate to describe the situation.
“This is sheer madness,” Nutter told a news conference, adding the case was an “incredibly tangled web of horror.”
More than 30 years ago, Weston was convicted of starving to death a 25-year-old man in her apartment in North Philadelphia and served eight years in prison, authorities said.
Police say there may be as many as 50 victims in multiple states in the case.
The case could be among the first of its kind prosecuted as a federal hate crime, according to a law-enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named for two victims of notorious hate-based killings and expands earlier federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation or disability, among other things.
Weston was legally disqualified from cashing the victims’ government disability checks because of her criminal past.
But she apparently did anyway, enabled in part by a lack of accountability and follow-through by government agencies and police.
[Editor’s Note: Read the original report of the arrests here.]