The children wore casts and braces they didn't need for injuries caused by a disease they don't have, but they played along with their mother's fiction for years out of fear, Minnesota investigators say.
Their bones aren't brittle, though that's what they told doctors, nurses and others, because the punishments for not pretending were real and painful, a trio of children told the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office.
At their home in Crosslake, they lived mostly in their rooms, isolated unless their mother demanded something of them or she decided, once again, to march them outside nearly naked in the cold until their bodies burned and ached, police said. They were whipped with cords and cables, thrown and choked for one reason or another, living in fear and lies, they told investigators in a Nov. 21 interview.
McClatchy News is not identifying the 32-year-old suspect to protect the identities of the minors, referred to only as Child 1, Child 2 and Child 3 in a probable cause statement by investigators.
Sometimes their rooms weren't clean enough, so she would pick them up by the throat and squeeze, Child 3, an 8-year-old girl, told police. Their kicking feet wouldn't stop her. She'd release her grip just as they were about to pass out, leaving them gasping for air, their blurry eyes slowly finding focus.
Her 11-year-old brother, Child 1, recalled numerous visits to doctor's offices and hospitals.
He forced himself to cough or throw up as his mother demanded, or pretended he had broken a bone, he told investigators. His mom would take medical supplies during these visits so she could put fake casts on him.
She often took blood from Child 2, a 9-year-old boy, typically on days he had a doctor's appointment, the siblings told police.
"She kept doing it and said don't tell anyone," the boy told investigators. It made him feel "sick-sleepy."
"I was never safe," he said.
He was forced to use a wheelchair at home whenever his father was around - though he did not need one - and he wasn't allowed to eat solid food, according to the probable cause statement. Instead, investigators say his mother fed him intravenously using a PICC line, which functions similarly to an IV.
The boy said "his body felt sad and his body growls" from hunger, documents read. On occasion, he tried sneaking real food into his room.
"But his (mother and father) searched his room and after they found what they were looking for he got a lot of spankings," the probable cause statement said.
He had no bed and slept on the floor.
Additionally, the boy's mother made him say bad words to his father in order to make him angry, his sister told investigators. Their mother "always wanted Child 2 to get in trouble," the girl said, adding that she frequently heard screaming coming from his room.
Police learned of the abuse after launching an investigation earlier this year, following a March hospital visit for Child 2 regarding the level of hemoglobin in his blood.
His hemoglobin numbers were down, but after monitoring, investigators say the only explanation was "someone was removing blood from his body," documents read.
Their mother blamed it on the hospital, saying they were taking too much of the boy's blood. But on Nov. 21, investigators spoke with her children, who revealed the torturous conditions they've been living under.
Investigators also learned that the 32-year-old had been given a total of $35,000 from the state of Minnesota and several nonprofits to help care for Child 2, documents said.
She was booked into the Crow County Jail on Nov. 23 and is facing three counts of torture of a child and three counts of stalking, records show.
The town of Crosslake is 144 miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis.
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