ACCOMACK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY/AP) — A woman kept two of her five young children in makeshift cages and all of them lived in a home full of trash, rotting food and fleas on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, authorities said.
The conditions of Malista Ness-Hopkins’ home and children were detailed during a court hearing Friday in Accomac, a small town about 20 miles south of the Maryland border, according to the Daily Times of Salisbury, Maryland. The 38-year-old mother faces charges of abuse and neglect.
Her attorney told the judge that Ness-Hopkins, whose children range in age from 1 to 6 years old, was “overwhelmed.”
Tuesday, 10 On Your Side went to Ness-Hopkins’ home in Mears, Virginia. The two-story home has strips of wood barring the doors and “No Trespassing” signs on each entrance. In the front yard sit dozens of children’s toys left unattended.
Across the field neighbor Paul Lurz said he knew Ness-Hopkins and her family.
“I’ve seen her out there playing with the kids, involved with the kids,” Lurz said. “I mean she was always concerned about having meals for the kids.”
Lurz also said after Ness-Hopkins boyfriend died, she was left to care for the five children alone. “She didn’t have anyone to help her,” he said.
Accomack County Social Services worker Kate Bonniwell testified that she visited the home after her agency received a complaint in late July. She said two of the woman’s children were caged inside cribs. Rails taken from other cribs were screwed on top, confining them inside.
Bonniwell said it took her more than 20 minutes to unscrew one with an electric screwdriver. The 2-year-old child inside hissed at her and made noises she described as “animal sounds.” Once the top was removed, the child did not attempt to get out, Bonniwell said.
A 3-year-old was confined in another crib in the room, where a 1-year-old child was also found.
“The children didn’t act like normal children,” Bonniwell testified.
Bonniwell said the children were filthy and suffering from multiple bug bites. In another bedroom, two other children, ages 5 and 6, slept on bare mattresses, she said.
Bonniwell said the toilet in the home’s only bathroom was filled with black water. The sink and the bathtub were filled with trash, including plates of rotting food.
According to the sheriff’s office, they obtained a search warrant on July 27. The children were removed from the home on July 28, the day social workers visited.
Bonniwell said Ness-Hopkins told her she was having a hard time and that she confined the children because she could not watch them. The mother said they had gotten out once and were playing with a can of Drano, Bonniwell testified.
Neighbor Paul Lurz said Ness-Hopkins came to him a year ago and told him she was overwhelmed. “She had asked social services about housing,” he remembered. “They said her family was too big they had no housing for such a large family.”
10 On your Side called Accomack County Social Services to see if Ness-Hopkins, or anyone else, made prior complaints about the home. No one has returned our calls.
Defense attorney Tucker Watson told the judge there was no evidence that the conditions in the home “were directly harmful to the children.”
The judge disagreed and sent the charges to a grand jury.
“This did not happen overnight,” Judge Croxton Gordon said.
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