INVERNESS, Fla. (WFLA) – Detectives say it’s one of the worst child abuse cases they’ve seen. A 54-year-old woman from Inverness is accused of locking a boy in a room – without access to food or water – for days at a time. Denise Hallowell, who deputies identified as a teacher, was arrested Monday.
Detectives were looking for the boy, who ran away, when they learned about the abuse, according to the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office. “As detectives started learning more and more about the 12-year-old boy they were looking for, things started to unravel,” deputies said. “Detectives found out (Hallowell) had a dark secret.”
When detectives located the victim, he told them about his home life and the alleged abuse, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office did not identify the victim’s relationship to the suspect.
The boy told detectives Hallowell kept him locked in a bedroom with just an air mattress and a bucket for a toilet. The suspect allegedly nailed the room’s windows shut and “snowed” them out to prevent a view.
Hallowell locked the door from the outside with both a regular lock and a chain lock, according to the Sheriff’s Office. “(The victim) was without food or water for days at a time and only allowed to come out of his room to do chores, which Hallowell made him do naked,” deputies said.
When Hallowell attended social events and family gatherings, she left the boy locked in the room, deputies said. She told detectives she locked him in to prevent him from running away again. The victim told detectives he had “escaped” in 2012.
Hallowell allegedly beat the child. She slapped, punched and kicked him in his private areas, according to the Sheriff’s Office. She left three-inch bruises on his hips and the interior of his arm, deputies said. She also slapped his back, face and neck, leaving scratches that remained noticeable 48 hours later, deputies added.
In addition, the suspect allegedly called the victim “worthless” and used vulgarities toward him.
Officials removed the child from the home. He is being cared for. Hallowell is being held without bond. “What looked like a typical runaway case turned into a horrible child abuse case,” Captain Dave DeCarlo said in a statement. “We are just so thankful that this boy trusted us enough to come forward about what was going on inside his home.”