Police: Malnourished boy escaped "house of horrors"

NEWARK, Del. - November 29, 2012

Melissa Ferraro-Walsh says it was Tuesday night that a 12-year-old boy, who lives about seven blocks away, came knocking on her door.

"He knocked on my door around 7:30. He's just a skinny little thing; you'd never know that he was 12 years old," Ferraro-Walsh said.

The boy, shivering in the cold, was looking for Ferraro-Walsh's 13-year-old stepson, a former classmate.

"He had bruises, he was barely clothed. No shoes, no socks," Ferraro-Walsh said.

Walsh offered to make him some hot apple cider, but the boy turned her down.

She insisted.

"I was like 'well, I'm gonna make you some anyway because you look cold.' Then he ate and ate and ate for four hours and you could tell that he was just ravenous," Ferraro-Walsh said.

Ferraro-Walsh asked the boy if she should call his parents and he kept insisting that they knew where he was and that everything was ok.

But she knew something wasn't right.

She worried about what was really going on at that boy's home that made him run in the cold, wintry night with no shoes on to her house.

"I told him that I spoke with his parents outside and he came clean with everything. He said, 'Please, don't let me go back there,'" Ferraro-Walsh said.

The boy would soon tell New Castle County Police that since mid-September he had been kept locked in a back bedroom by his father, 41-year-old Robert Hohn III, and his stepmother, 39-year-old Shannon Watterson.

He says they only allowed him to come out to use the bathroom and eat a small amount of food.

Police say the room he was kept in had no furniture or blankets.

"There was a lamp with no lampshade and that was it," Cpl. John Weglarz of the New Castle County Police Department said.

New Castle County police say the couple was running a "house of horrors."

They say they found three other children 14, 10 and 9 years old that were also being mistreated.

They add that the 12-year-old, according to doctors, was malnourished and 20 pounds underweight.

Despite this, Ferraro-Walsh says the child was protective of his parents to the very end.

"He doesn't want his parents to get in trouble - is what he kept saying," Ferraro-Walsh

The boy tells police he was pulled out of school about a year ago and was kept in the backroom because of behavior problems.

He says he spent all day in there with nothing to do, but write sentences.

The parents now face child abuse charges, a felony in Delaware that can garner from 2 to 25 years in prison.

Bail for Hohn and Watterson has been set at $282,000 each. Both were also ordered not to have any contact with the children.

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