TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A Tucson man and woman have been accused in a disturbing case of alleged child abuse.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department said Benito Gutierrez, 69, and Carol Gutierrez, 64, were arrested Tuesday, Feb. 20, on suspicion of child abuse.
Both were in court in Tucson on Wednesday, Feb. 21, and each was held on $25,000 bond for three counts of child abuse and domestic violence. Both are barred from any contact with minors or the victims.
Their next court date is March 5.
The PCSD said the couple's four adopted children, ages 6 to 12 years old, were found living in horrible conditions at a home in the 4100 block of North Flowing Wells Road.
"The children were kept in separate bedrooms, which were locked from the outside," the PCSD said in a news release. "(They had) no access to food, water, lights or bathroom facilities for up to 12 hours at a time on a regular basis."
According to the interim complaint, the children were forced to sleep in soiled clothing and bedding whenever they had an accident.
The children were fed only once per day and were locked outside the home all day on weekends, according to the PCSD.
"Neighbors who witnessed the children locked outside on a number of occasions would give the children food due to the children telling them they were hungry," an investigator wrote in the complaint.
According to the search warrant, Carol Gutierrez told authorities the kids were locked up because she could not handle them. She called them meanaces who stole and ate all of the food.
The PCSD said the couple admitted to locking the children in their rooms each night and the children told investigators they had been living under these conditions since 2011.
In a news conference Wednesday, Pima County Sheriff's Detective Patricia Willson also said the children didn't disclose anything regarding their living situation to anyone.
We talked to a Dr. Anthony Luick, a retired child psychologist about the situation, who said he was not surprised to hear of the children's' reported mindset.
"So when you're in a situation like that, that's how you're raised, that becomes normalized for you. Especially, if they're secluded and don't visit friends and go to other peoples' houses. They don't know any better," said Dr. Luick.
Detectives said they had interaction with others, that the Gutierrez children were reportedly going to school as normal, and being fed two school lunch meals a day.
One of the children was forced to go to the bathroom in a bucket in his room, the PCSD said.
The PCSD said the investigation began Feb. 17, when one of the children was able to leave the home through a bedroom window. The child went to a nearby store and asked to use the phone. The store clerk then called 911 due to the child's age and condition, according to the PCSD.
The children have been removed from the home.
Tucson News Now reached out the Arizona Department of Child Safety about the case. DCS released the following statement.
"I'm upset. I'm very upset," said Linda Heffernan, a friend of Carol Gutierrez. "The people that they're being portrayed as is not who they are."
Heffernan said she has seen caring interactions between the adopted parents and children, and that she had been in their home at least twice over their seven year friendship.
But she said she had never seen the children's bedrooms.
"I've never had a need to go into the bedrooms."
Neighbor Paul Hernandez told Tucson News Now that his children were friends with the Gutierrez children, having played with them over the years, and that they were under strict orders from Carol and Benito.
"I know they had to be home. They had to leave my house absolutely by 4:30 p.m. Be home by 5:00 and in bed by 5:00," he said.
Hernandez said he never noticed any serious signs of distress, but that more red flags are appearing as he learns more about what the Gutierrez parents are accused of doing.
"I thought a little bit, but I didn't think it was this route," he said, talking about how it wasn't strange to see kids that age constantly hungry and thirsty. "That's why I never really thought too much about it. I know, my kid, he's in the same class as him. He eats (so much) out of the house at home. So I wouldn't think that's uncommon."