This image provided by the Roane County Jail shows Michael Anthony Gray Sr. Gray and his wife, Shirley Ann Gray, face charges after police found the skeletal remains of a girl buried in their yard. The Roane County, Tenn., couple, arrested on Monday, May 25, 2020, are charged with aggravated child abuse, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated child neglect and abuse of a corpse, authorities said. (Roane County Jail via AP)

Warrants describe nightmarish child abuse case in Tennessee

May 27, 2020 - 1:19 pm

KINGSTON, Tenn. (AP) — Arrest warrants in a Tennessee couple's abuse case describe a hellish existence for four children in their legal custody, a nightmare that finally ended after a little boy was spotted walking alone along a Roane County road.

Passersby called 911, and a responding officer began asking questions. The boy's legal guardian soon confessed, the warrants said, to burying the remains of a little girl in a barn and locking a 15-year-old boy in the basement for four years.

The two other children spent time in a wire dog cage, while all were supposedly homeschooled and appeared to be “stunted in growth,” the warrants said.

Michael Anthony Gray Sr., 63, and his wife, Shirley Ann Gray, 60, were arrested Monday on charges of aggravated child abuse, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated child neglect and abuse of a corpse, authorities said.

The surviving children, ages 11 to 15, were removed from their custody by the state Department of Children’s Services.

The oldest had been locked in the partially flooded, unfinished basement for stealing food shortly after the family moved to the home in June 2016, authorities said, "and had no contact with anyone outside the basement, only given small amounts of food, being white bread and some water,” the warrants state.

Michael Gray told authorities that the girl was about 10 when she died in 2017, a few months after she too was locked in the basement, and that he buried her inside a barn in the backyard, the warrants said. Investigators found her skeletal remains on Saturday, the day after the 911 call, according to 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson.

The Grays also built a tiny concrete room under the stairs for punishment, the warrants said. Authorities who liberated the older boy on Friday said he was surrounded by feces, garbage and mold.

The warrants say Shirley Gray claimed all four children were keeping up with their homeschooling requirements, but two of them "appear to have no formal education,” and “were, in fact, amazed by what a refrigerator does when they observed one in their foster home.”

The Grays remained in custody on Wednesday. It wasn’t immediately clear whether they have an attorney.

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