TAMPA — Tampa police took eight children into custody from a local home this week where they say the parents abused and starved their two oldest boys.
Jamie Hicks, the biological mother of the eight children, was charged Friday with two counts of aggravated child abuse and two counts of child neglect. Vernon Lovell, the biological father of the five youngest children and the stepfather of the three oldest, was charged with two counts of child neglect.
They are accused of abusing and starving their twin 16-year-old boys, who had to be hospitalized. They weigh 94 pounds and 84 pounds, but experts said they should weigh at least 135 pounds, said Laura McElroy, a Tampa police spokeswoman.
Detectives are waiting for more medical tests to determine whether the parents will receive more charges, McElroy said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hicks, 43, called Tampa police to report that her 13-year-old son and 10-year-old son had run away from their Tampa home, McElroy said.
Tampa police placed an alert to all agencies. The children were located in the area of U.S. 41 and County Line Road. A Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy picked up the two children at 8:51 p.m. and brought them to Tampa police.
Police detectives returned the children to their home and began to investigate by trying to interview the children and the parents.
They spent hours interviewing the family on Tuesday night, McElroy said, but they couldn’t see any visible signs of abuse. But there were red flags, she said.
Investigators returned on Wednesday, where the eight children were taken to a local facility for a forensic interview.
After spending time with investigators, the children started to open up about the abuses, McElroy said. It was determined that Hicks was denying food to the 16-year-old boys, police said.
The children were slapped, kicked in the stomach and choked until they couldn’t breathe, McElroy said.
They were made to eat moldy food, and when they vomited, they were made to eat the vomit, McElroy said.
If the children took food from the kitchen, Hicks would say they were stealing it, McElroy said. She would put her finger down their throats to make them vomit, she said.
The 16-year-old boys were also made to stand naked for hours, McElroy said.
The children include the two 16-year-old twin boys, the 13-year-old and 10-year-old boys, a 12-year-old female, a 7-year-old male, a 4-year-old male, and a 2-year-old female, police said.
The children are home schooled. Neighbors didn’t know the family had eight children, McElroy said.
All children have been medically examined and police are waiting for the results to determine if there will be more charges, McElroy said.
The Department of Children and Families is involved in the case and opened an investigation, said Nancy Harrell, regional communications director for the agency.
DCF has had communication with the family in the past, but didn’t have “an ongoing investigation or case plan,” Harrell said.
DCF has placed the children in foster care, Harrell said.
Hicks and Lovell, 53, are being held in a Hillsborough County jail with no bail.
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