Tucson, AZ – An Arizona couple was charged with multiple counts of child abuse and domestic violence on Tuesday, after investigators learned that they had forced their four adopted children to live in horrendous conditions for the past seven years, police said.
Benito Gutierrez, 64, and Carol Gutierrez, 69, were each charged with three counts of child abuse, and three counts of domestic violence, Pima County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) Detective Patricia Willson said in a press conference on Wednesday.
The couple were initially the children’s foster parents and later adopted all four of the kids.
The eldest child was just two years old at the time of the foster placement, and he is now 12 years of age. The youngest child rescued from the home was six, Det. Willson said.
She said that a concerned Family Dollar clerk contacted the PCSO on Feb. 17, after the 12-year-old boy came into the store and asked to use the telephone to contact his uncle.
Although the child did not specifically tell the clerk that anything was wrong, something about his disheveled appearance and the nature of the boy’s conversation caused the employee to contact 911.
Officers responded to the store, and after they spoke with the child, they immediately went to make contact with his adoptive parents.
They found one more boy and two girls inside the residence, Det. Willson said.
"The children were kept in separate bedrooms, which were locked from the outside," the PCSD said, according to KMSB. "[They had] no access to food, water, lights or bathroom facilities for up to 12 hours at a time on a regular basis."
According to court documents, Carol told investigators that she locked the children inside their rooms because they were menaces, who stole and ate all of the food, and that she could not handle them, KMSB reported.
The children had nothing in their rooms during the 12 hours per day they were locked inside, with the exception of a mattress with bedding on the floor, Det. Willson explained. At least one bedroom window was boarded up from the outside, preventing light from coming inside.
They were fed once per day, and forced to remain in dirty clothes when they had an accident, KMSB reported. At least one of the children was given a bucket to use as a toilet.
Neighbor Paul Hernandez told KMSB that Carol and Benito allowed the children to come over to play with his kids in the past, but that they were given a strict curfew.
“I know they had to be home. They had to leave my house absolutely by 4:30 p.m. Be home by 5:00 and in bed by 5:00,” Hernandez said.
The children were released from their rooms to attend school on the weekdays, but never made disclosures about the abuse they endured at home, Det. Willson said.
School personnel described the kids as “excellent students,” who were also very well-behaved, she said.
They always ate breakfast and lunch at the school.
“When you're in a situation like that, that's how you're raised, that becomes normalized for you,” retired child psychologist Dr. Anthony Luick told KMSB. “Especially, if they're secluded and don't visit friends and go to other peoples' houses. They don't know any better.”
Investigators noted that the home was in normal condition, with the exception of the children’s rooms, Det. Wilson said.
Carol’s friend, Linda Heffernan, told KMSB that she had observed the couple with the children, and that she had never noticed any problems when she was inside their residence.
“I’m upset. I’m very upset,” Heffernan said. “The people that they’re being portrayed as is not who they are.”
She also admitted that she had never seen the children’s bedrooms.
The Gutierrez children were immediately removed from the residence by Child Protective Services, Det. Wilson said.
Carol and Benito were each being held on $25,000 bond, and were ordered to have no contact with the victims, or with any other minors, KMSB reported.
Both were due back in court on Mar. 5.