Police in rural California say three children lived in a small plywood box in squalid conditions on a property overrun with cats.
The parents — Mona Kirk, 51, and Daniel Panico, 73 — were arrested Wednesday by San Bernardino sheriff's deputies at the property in the desert community of Joshua Tree.
Authorities initially said the children — ages 11, 13, and 14 — were forced to live in the plywood box for four years. But on Friday they said they had spent three years in a gutted trailer, and one year in the box, which according to the sheriff's department was about 20 feet long, 4 feet high, and 10 feet wide. The children, however, had no obvious injuries, officials said.
In announcing the arrests, San Bernardino sheriff's officials had also characterized the situation as children being held in captivity. But on Friday, they clarified that the children had built the shelter themselves and lived there with their mother.
In addition to the property being filthy, there were 30 to 40 cats roaming around, no electricity, heat, or running water, and "several large holes and mounds of trash and human feces." The children were not enrolled in school, according to sheriff's officials.
A CBS reporter tweeted a photo of the box's interior:
A neighbor, Mike Reynolds, told the Desert Sun that several of the people on the block live off the electric and water grids, and described the children's father as a "regular retired guy" who was "doing the best he could to raise his family."
Child Protective Services took custody of the children, and the parents have been charged with three counts of willful cruelty to a child.
The parents did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Earlier this year, 13 children of a couple in neighboring Riverside County were rescued after they were found shackled in their home. Their parents were charged with multiple counts of torture, abuse, and false imprisonment.
The siblings, who ranged in age from 2 to 29 years old, were found after one of them, a 17-year-old girl, managed to escape.