Tue Sep 13,12:20 AM ET
WAKEMAN, Ohio - Sheriff's deputies found 11 children locked in cages less than 3 1/2 feet high inside a home, but a couple denied they had abused or neglected the children.
A judge on Monday put the children — who range in age from 1 to 14 and who have various disabilities, including autism — in foster homes.
The children were found in nine cages built into the walls of the house near this small city in northern Ohio, according to the Huron County Sheriff's Office. They had no blankets or pillows, and the cages were rigged with alarms that sounded if opened, Lt. Randy Sommers said.
The children told authorities they slept in the cages — 40 inches high and 40 inches deep — at night. Doors to some of the cages were blocked with heavy furniture.
Sharen and Mike Gravelle are adoptive or foster parents for all 11 children, officials said. Prosecutors were reviewing the case, but no charges had been filed as of Monday night.
A children's services investigator saw one of the children in a cage Friday, Sommers said. The sheriff's office obtained a warrant and returned to the house that evening and removed the children.
The Gravelles do not have a listed telephone number.
A woman who identified herself as Sharen Gravelle's mother but would not give her name said the children were happy in their new home.
"This year they have played and had fun and laughed like no other children have, which they have never been able to do," she said.
At a hearing, the judge placed the children in the custody of the Department of Job and Family Services, and officials placed them in four foster homes, said county Juvenile Court Administrator Chris Mushett.
Appearing with a lawyer at the hearing, the Gravelles denied they had abused or neglected the children.
County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said the Gravelles claimed a psychiatrist recommended they place the children in cages.
The couple were reserved when deputies arrived at the house to remove the children, Sommers said.
"The impression that we got was that they felt it was OK," he said.
Investigators believe nine of the children slept in the cages that were stacked two-high on the house's second story. Two mattresses on a bedroom floor also showed signs of recent use, Sommers said.
One of the boys said he'd slept in the cage for three years, Sommers said.
Wakeman, with a population of about 1,000, is some 50 miles west of Cleveland.