Authorities said Tuesday they removed 11 children from a crowded home used as an address by a registered sex offender after they found eight confined in a small, dark bedroom with restraints tying some to their beds.
Along with the children, 10 adults were living in the one-story, 1,700-square-foot brick home in Dayton, about 30 miles northeast of Houston, Child Protective Services spokeswoman Gwen Carter said. One month after a raid on the house, authorities are still trying to determine how the children are related and why they were there, she said.
The children, belonging to seven separate families, ranged in age from 5 months to 11 years, said NBC station KPRC of Houston.
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Three who were age 5 or older had not been enrolled in school, Carter said.
The children were removed after authorities found two 2-year-old children tied to a bed during a January visit to the home, according to a court document.
A legally blind, 5-year-old girl "was in a restraint on a filthy mattress, and appeared to be in a daze," the document said. One child had a black eye and knocked-out tooth.
The adults told investigators they tied the children when they slept or took a nap during the day "for safety," the document said. An investigator noted that none of the adults said they saw anything wrong with the arrangement.
Two of the children had what authorities feared was pneumonia and were taken to a children's hospital. All have since been placed in foster homes, Carter said.
The case is still under investigation, and Dayton Police Sgt. Doug O'Quinn said officials are looking into criminal charges. Liberty County District Attorney Mike Little said his office would present a case to a grand jury next month, but he declined to discuss possible suspects or charges.
"Our primary concern was to make sure that the children were stable and safe," Carter said.
The next custody hearing in this case is scheduled for March 9, KPRC said.
The home with a "No Trespassing" sign out front is in a subdivision near land used for farming and ranching. A tricycle and other toys were in the backyard Tuesday, and several cars were parked outside.
People leaving the home declined to talk to media assembled outside, and other residents and their relatives declined to comment or didn't respond to phone messages.
One person in Texas' online sex offender registry listed the house as his address. Mark E. Marsh III was convicted in Michigan 15 years ago of criminal sexual conduct with a 15-year-old girl. He did not have a working phone number listed.
Neighbor Wayne Hardin said he never saw the youngest children and had no idea so many people were living in the house. Though he often saw eight or more cars parked outside, Hardin said he was told the residents had a big family.
"I was shocked," said Hardin, who had called police about loud music blaring from the house. "We didn't have a clue."
Douglas Waller said he saw nothing unusual at the home a few days before Christmas when he visited briefly with a 4-year-old girl who he believes is his daughter, the Houston Chronicle reported. The 33-year-old is petitioning the court for custody of the child.
"She looked all right. She looked healthy and happy," he said, but he changed his mind after the girl was removed from the home.
"After reading the papers I've received from the courts, I would not trust them with an animal -- much less a child," he said. "I had no idea of the stuff that was going on at the house."
Along with the children, two teenage runaways with a stolen car were at the home, authorities said. The boys, both 16, admitted running away from foster homes, smoking marijuana and driving a car they knew was stolen, authorities said.
Carter said the home was not registered as a foster home or day care.