DALLAS, Ga. (AP) — An emaciated teenage Georgia boy told police he was forced to kneel for hours at a time by his stepfather and mother, who now face charges of child cruelty after allegedly confining the teen in a bedroom for years and then sending him by bus to Los Angeles to seek a homeless shelter.
Investigators in Paulding County, Ga., conducted an afternoon search at the home where authorities allege Mitch Comer was kept in such seclusion that his two younger sisters in the same house did not know what he looked like.
"The sisters haven't seen the brother in over two years," Paulding County sheriff's Cpl. Ashley Henson said. "They didn't even know what color his hair was."
Stepfather Paul Comer and mother Sheila Comer face charges of false imprisonment and cruelty to children, Paulding County jail records show. They were being held without bond.
Arrest warrants filed Sept. 12 and 13 in Georgia say the couple "made Mitch kneel on the floor, bend his head and place his forehead against the wall, and place his hands behind his head for long periods of time."
The boy said he was fed small quantities of food daily, according to a Los Angeles police statement.
Renee Rockwell, a lawyer for Sheila Comer, said her client is "standing by her not guilty plea."
"I'm staying deep in prayer that the judge sees fit to grant her bond," Rockwell said.
"We're doing our own independent investigation right now, and Paul is helping with that," said Paul Comer's lawyer Scott Smith. "He's deeply concerned about the seriousness of the charges against him."
Smith said he couldn't comment further but that his client is looking forward to his bond hearing Oct. 4.
The FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have joined the case, Henson said.
Mitch Comer told police his stepfather gave him $200 and a list of homeless shelters before he was put on a bus to Los Angeles on this 18th birthday, police in Los Angles said Thursday.
Retired Los Angeles police Sgt. Joe Gonzalez was working security at a downtown bus station Sept. 11 when he spotted the 87-pound teenage boy who stood just over 5 feet tall and looked much younger, Los Angeles police said in a statement Thursday.
The boy told Gonzalez his stepfather declared that he was now a man before putting the teen on a bus.
Because he was so childlike, police worried that he wasn't as old as he claimed and decided to investigate further. The teen told authorities he had suffered years of abuse after being taken out of school in the eighth grade.
Paul Comer had his own business repairing home appliances, said next-door neighbor John White. They rarely spoke.
Comer's wife never left the house unless she was with her husband, not even to check the mail, White said. Their two daughters would sometimes come outside and play, but only in the back yard. Neighbors assumed the girls didn't go to school either — they never caught the bus that picked up other children in the cul-de-sac every morning.
Neighbors said they had no clue the Comers had a son until a detective came knocking at their doors asking questions last week.
"I had no idea, no clue. There were no signs of a son at all," said Dion Walker, who's lived next to the Comers for two years. "The few occasions we would see them go to the van, it was always the parents and the two girls."
She said her 8-year-old daughter would occasionally play with the Comer girls, who she initially thought were the same age as her own daughter. They were the same size and seemed to have the same maturity level. However, she said police later told her the Comer girls were 11 and 13.
Walker said the Comer family did not take part in neighborhood association meetings and their girls never attended the neighborhood Halloween block parties.
"We said one day, why don't you come over here? And they said their father would not let them cross the yard. So from that point I stopped letting my daughter go over there. And they would just stare at us."
Walker said police swarmed the Comers' home last week, arresting the parents and taking both girls into protective custody.