INVERNESS, Fla. (WFLA) – Detectives say it’s one of the worst abuse cases they’ve seen in a while.
A 54-year-old teacher from Inverness, Fla. is behind bars – with no bond – on aggravated child abuse charges.
“Detectives found out she had a dark secret,” Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies said Tuesday.
Denise Hallowell was arrested Monday. Detectives learned about the abuse after the victim ran away, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“As detectives started learning more and more about the 12-year-old boy they were looking for, things started to unravel,” deputies said.
When detectives located the boy, he told them about his home life and the alleged abuse he faced at Hallowell’s hands, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The boy told detectives that while he was home, he was kept locked in a bedroom with just an air mattress and a bucket for a toilet, deputies said. The room’s windows were nailed shut and “snowed out” to prevent a view, deputies added. The door was locked from the outside with both a regular lock and a chain lock, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
When deputies photographed the room, it was bare of anything but the air mattress on a metal frame, some books and a few items of clothing.
“He was without food or water for days at a time and only allowed to come out of his room to do chores, which Hallowell made him do naked,” deputies said.
Hallowell would leave for social events and family gatherings, leaving the boy locked in the room. She said she locked him in to prevent him from running away again, deputies said. The victim told detectives he “escaped” in 2012.
Hallowell also allegedly beat the child. She slapped, punched and kicked him in his private areas, and left three-inch bruises on his hips and the interior of his arm, deputies said. She slapped his back, face and neck, leaving scratches that remained noticeable 48 hours later, according to the Sheriff’s Office. She’d throw him into his room before locking the door, deputies added.
The suspect called the victim “worthless” and would use vulgarities toward him, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The child is no longer in the home and is being cared for. Hallowell is being held without bond. She’s charged with aggravated child abuse and child abuse without causing great bodily harm.
“What looked like a typical runaway case turned into a horrible child abuse case,” Captain Dave DeCarlo said in a statement. “We are just so thankful that this boy trusted us enough to come forward about what was going on inside his home.”