Couple arrested after man finds severely abused, beaten teen in Polk woods

Kris and Melissa Peters, Polk County Jail booking photos
Kris and Melissa Peters, Polk County Jail booking photos

DUNDEE, Fla. (WFLA) – A Dundee man is speaking out after making a disturbing discovery in the woods. Michael Hickin found a badly beaten teen calling for help.

Now, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is investigating this horrible case of suspected child abuse.

According to court documents, the 17-year-old girl was malnourished, underweight and had multiple wounds on her body.

Hickin heard the cries. “She said, Can you help me?’ Over and over, ‘Can you help me?’ I thought it was a joke at first,” Hickin said. When he got closer, he couldn’t believe what he saw. In the woods across from his house lay a small girl.

“She was tangled up in the brush. She was like, ‘I’m trapped in the woods. My shoulder is broke,’ and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to run and get my mom,’ and she called the sheriff’s office,” Hickin said. “We definitely were there for a reason.”

An exam revealed the 17-year-old has a stab wound, a broken shoulder, infected sores and bruises. She suffers from malnutrition, resulting in hair loss and lower than normal weight.

Melissa Peters, 33, and Kris Peters, 45, are charged with abusing the girl. Their relationship has not been disclosed to keep the girl’s identity private.

In an interview with detectives, the girl said she had been beaten for several months with a metal pipe. She also said she was stabbed with a pocketknife and kicked with metal-studded boots.

The girl said she had to to steal food while her abusers were not looking. She told investigators she was not allowed to use a restroom and, because of this, she soiled herself and had not bathed since March.

“She wouldn’t have been alive much longer. She would have died had she not run and saved her own life,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

According to documents, the pair said the girl suffered from mental illness and caused her own injuries, yet neither tried to get medical or mental health treatment for her.

Both Melissa and Kris Peters are facing charges of aggravated child abuse, negligent child abuse with great bodily harm and failure to report child abuse and neglect. They are being held without bond.

A 15-year-old boy was also removed from the home, but was reportedly not harmed or abused.

“It has shaken our most experienced detectives to their souls,” Judd said.

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