Judge: Children living like ‘animals in a cage,’ Tampa couple arrested

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Tampa couple faces child neglect charges after police say they found their five children living in squalor inside a home that did not have electricity or a working toilet.

Tampa police arrested 45-year-old Barbara Boone and 65-year-old Jose Colon yesterday after they found the kids, who ranged in age from 8 to 17, living in deplorable conditions at 4206 Powhatan Avenue East.

According to police, the children were forced to use a bucket for a toilet. The house was full of rats and spiders and other insects and fecal matter. Investigators say they found food, but it was spoiled. Investigators went to the home after someone made an anonymous tip to the Department of Children and Family Services.

During the couple’s first appearance in court on Tuesday morning, Judge John N. Conrad told Barbara Boone, “These children lived as if they were animals in a cage. I mean, that’s the reality.” He went on to say “I mean, an animal couldn’t live in that. I don’t know what right-thinking person could let their child live in that type of environment.”

Boone and Colon each face five counts of child neglect and five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child.

News Channel 8 wanted to know more about the anonymous tip and the investigation by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Here is DCF’s response in its entirety:

In Hillsborough County, all child protection investigations are handled by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Child Protection Division. I know the police report from TPD mentioned the anonymous call made to DCF. In counties where the Sheriff conducts the investigations, our abuse hotline takes the call and then transfers the invest to the Sheriff’s office immediately after intake. HCSO then conducts the child protection investigation. Any questions regarding the Sheriff’s office process as well as any questions about possible communication with the school district on cases would need to be handled by HCSO.

-Natalie Harrell, Communications Director, SunCoast Region Florida Department of Children and Families

According to an arrest affidavit uncovered by News Channel 8, investigators confirm the children had not been going to school for “some two to three years.” Detectives said there was evidence that at least one child had a speech delay, difficulty saying words and formulating complete sentences. One of the children could not identify written numbers in print.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is investigating. Child protection investigators will continue looking into the case.

A judge will determine where the children should be placed and whether parental rights should be terminated, DCF said.

News Channel 8 has calls out to the office of the Hillsborough County of Public Schools to find out more about the children’s attendance records.

The couple also faces animal cruelty charges. If they bond out of jail, Judge Conrad ordered them not to have any contact with children.

Neighbors react to the allegations

“I’m shocked,” said Connie Walker, who recently moved in next door with her with her husband and son. “I never knew.”

“It hurts,” Walker said. “It’s troubling … I love my baby and I want everyone to love their kids, as well.”

Other neighbors are also in disbelief. Earlishia Oates recalled seeing the victims several times. She said they looked a little disheveled. “You knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know it was that bad,” Oates said.

She said she saw DCF investigators at the home twice before and believes this could have been prevented. “They’ve taken the kids before and put the kids back into that same home so if the system knew that it was bad, you should have got the parents some help,” Oates said.

Neighbor Orel Jean Baptiste told News Channel 8 he works extra jobs to make sure his kids have what they need. “To still hear that in these day and age that we have people that really aren’t taking care of their kids the way they should is really unspeakable to me,” Baptiste said.

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