A 38-year-old Virginia woman is accused of keeping two toddlers locked up in makeshift cages.
Malista Ness-Hopkins reportedly kept two of her five children in cribs with lids screwed on top so they could not escape, court records and testimony revealed. Ness-Hopkins is charged with five counts of abuse and neglect of those children, according to the Delmarva Now.
Social workers and investigators said the toddlers were kept in a filthy house covered in dirty diapers, lice and insect bites. They were all removed from the home on 28 July when social workers visited.
Accomack County Social Services worker Kate Bonniwell testified during a preliminary hearing on Friday (8 September) that she visited Ness-Hopkins' home following a complaint.
There she found the two and three-year-old children in separate cribs with tops that were affixed with multiple screws. Bonniwell said the tops appeared to be made from side rails of other cribs, caging in the children.
For 23 minutes, Bonniwell said she used an electric screwdriver to remove one of the lids. As she attempted to free the child, she said the two-year-old hissed at her and made "animal sounds". When the lip was removed, the child did not attempt to get out.
She then set out to work on the lid from the crib where the three-year-old was kept. The crib of the one-year-old child, also in the room, did not have a top.
"The children didn't act like normal children," she testified. Bonniwell said the children were "filthy, with multiple bug bites" and were infested with lice.
The three younger children wore dirty diapers, she said. In a separate bedroom, Bonniwell found the five and six-year-old children on mattresses on the floor, Delmarva Now reported.
The mattresses were filthy, had no sheet and no pillow, she said. A foam mattress was ripped apart. The entire home smelled of urine and was filled with debris, broken glass and rotting food, Bonniwell added.
She told the court that fleas jumped on her and bit her when she entered the house.
A second Social Services worker claimed there were no toys or clothes in the house. Ness-Hopkins allegedly told her she was having a hard time and planned to move. The mother also told social workers that she caged in the children when she could not watch them.
Investigator Meghann Patterson of the Accomack County Sheriff's Office told the court: "Outside, there was trash and debris. Inside, the smell was overwhelming. The kitchen was littered with trash and cockroaches were all over the floor. There was rotted food in containers."
Patterson testified that she saw bite and claw marks inside of the cribs.
Ness-Hopkins' attorney told the judge that she was "overwhelmed" over caring for her five children. Defence attorney Tucker Watson told the judge that there was "no evidence that the conditions were directly harmful to the children".
The judge disagreed. "This did not happen overnight," Judge Croxton Gordon said. "She said she only screwed them in when she couldn't mind them. But she was there." The judge sent the case to the grand jury.
Ness-Hopkins, who had been incarcerated at the Accomack County Jail, has since been released on a $10,000 unsecured bond, WTKR reported.