A Southern California couple has been arrested for child cruelty after deputies patrolling a remote area of Joshua Tree National Park stumbled on the ramshackle shelter that had no electricity or running water.
San Bernardino County authorities said on Friday the couple will appear in Joshua Tree Superior Court later today to be arraigned on three felony counts of child abuse.
According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, 73-year-old Daniel Panico and 51-year-old Mona Kirk were arrested after deputies discovered they had been living in a filthy shack with their three children and dozens of cats amid a trash strewn five-acre property.
“The victims were found to have an inadequate amount of food and were living in an unsuitable and unsafe environment due to the conditions located on the property,” the sheriff's department said in a statement. "Children and Family Service responded to the location and took custody of the three victims."
Deputies say the property had no electricity or running water and mounds of trash and human feces were discovered nearby the shack. The shelter was haphazardly constructed out of plywood and plastic sheeting and measured about 20 feet long, 4 feet high, and ten feet wide. At times, the father would sleep in an abandoned trailer on the property where the dozens of cats were apparently living.
Deputies were patrolling a remote part of the nearly 800,000 acre National Park when they noticed the dilapidated shelter and decided to investigate. That's when they found the three children, aged 11, 13, and 14 and two adults living in the small, ramshackle shelter. About 30-40 cats were also discovered within an abandoned trailer on the property.
San Bernardino County's Department of Children and Family Services took custody of the three children. Kirk and Panico have been charged with willful cruelty to a child, which is a felony offense authorities said. They are currently being held at the Morongo Basin Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.
The case is similar to that of David and Louise Turpin, the couple who allegedly held their thirteen children in a "House of Horrors" in a Riverside County home just south of Joshua Tree.
Anyone who has information relating to the investigation is being asked to contact the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Morongo Basin Station at (760)366-4175. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous may contact We-Tip at 1-888-78-CRIME.