A Southern California couple have pleaded 'not guilty' to child abuse charges after deputies discovered their three children living in a ramshackle shelter with no electricity or running water.
Daniel Panico 73, and Mona Kirk 51, appeared in Joshua Tree Superior Court where they were arraigned Monday afternoon. Bail was set at $300,000 each.
Investigators say sheriff's deputies found their three kids - ages 11, 13 and 14 - living in the middle of the desert for the last four years in a rundown shack made of plywood and plastic sheeting. The filthy shack was located in a remote part of Joshua Tree on an abandoned 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."
The home they were living in had been constructed out of discarded bits of plywood and plastic sheeting, with mounds of trash and human feces found in the area around the box. Around 30-40 cats were also found roaming the property sheriff's officials said.
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.
The case evokes memories of another horrifying tale of parental abuse - 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 about an hour 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.