Horrific news out of Philadelphia: On Sunday, four developmentally disabled adults were found chained in the boiler room of an apartment house. The room was only 10 by 15 feet and they were lying in their own excrement. There were buckets in the room and a container of orange juice.
The four, described as “severely mentally challenged” and having the “mental capacity of 10-year-olds” are from 29 to 41 years old and have been treated for malnutrition; they are now in the care of mental health officials who are trying to interview them. They had been in Philadelphia since October 3. One man seems to be from Texas and to have been held against his will for over a year. According to police, the four had been chained in the boiler room since coming to Philadelphia and had only been fed once a day.
Charged in the case are Linda Ann Weston, who had already served eight years in prison for the starvation death of Bernardo Ramos. Also charged are Weston’s boyfriend, Thomas Gregory, and a homeless man named Eddie Wright. The earlier charges against Weston are also horrific. After Ramos refused to support Weston’s sister’s unborn child, Weston and her sister beat Ramos, tied him up in a closet and only fed him three times for a period of months.
Turgut Gozleveli, the landlord of the apartment house, discovered the four adults on Sunday after a neighbor complained of “suspicious people” coming and going. On finding them, Gozleveli says that “they did not know what world they were living [in]” and that it was “something I never expected to see in my life.”
Weston, Gregory and Wright have all been arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, kidnapping and related charges. More charges will most likely be filed as the the three seem to be participants in a “criminal scheme that stretched back at least a year and reached to Florida and Texas.” Police are investigating whether the three were using the identities of the four individuals with disabilities to claim social security and disability benefits.
Hearing about individuals with disabilities abducted and held in such circumstances, and so cruelly treated, is beyond shocking. Just as worrisome is this question: Given the extent of the four individuals’ disabilities, who was not caring for them, that someone could have abducted them and subjected them to such inhumane treatment? Might someone have claimed to be a relative or guardian and taken them? There are reports from China about people offering individuals with disabilities jobs with good pay, food and the like and then forcing them to work as slaves in brick factories. But similar atrocities can and do occur in the US.
The Philadelphia case is a harsh and terrible reminder of why we need to ensure that services and supports — a place to live, a place to work, caretakers — are set up for individuals with developmental and other disabilities like my teenage autistic son Charlie. What happened in a Philadelphia basement should not, should never, have happened.
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