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Tennessee couple killed daughter for stealing food, kept son locked in basement for 4 years amid piling feces

The daughter was confined in the basement for several weeks before she passed away and was then buried in the backyard
UPDATED MAY 27, 2020
Michael Anthony Gray and Shirley Gray (Roane County Sheriff’s Office)
Michael Anthony Gray and Shirley Gray (Roane County Sheriff’s Office)

ROANE COUNTY, TENNESSEE: A couple was arrested after the police found a skeleton of a child in their backyard and a teenage boy imprisoned in the basement.

Michael Anthony Gray, Sr, 63, and wife Shirley Ann Gray, 60, were charged with two counts of aggravated child abuse, two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, three counts of aggravated child neglect and one count of abuse of a corpse after a three-day investigation into their alleged crimes. The couple appeared in court on Tuesday, May 26, via video link, for their arraignment, WVLT reported.

Authorities launched an investigation into the couple on May 22, when officials with the Roane County Sheriff's Office responded to a report stating someone had dropped off a boy who said that he had no clue where his parents were or where he was. After determining the 10-year-old boy's name, deputies took the child to his home and contacted the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS).

Michael and Shirly said that they were not aware of the fact that the child had left home, which made the officers suspicious. They took the child to the DCS office, where the child confessed to the fact that there was a 15-year-old child trapped in the basement while the corpse of another child was buried in the backyard. With the new information, the couple was questioned again and the second time, they admitted that the daughter, around 11 years old, died in 2017 and was buried. Michael also admitted that their teenage son was kept confined in the basement.

The police rescued the boy who was found living amid human and animal waste and without any source of running water. He had been cut away from the outside world since 2016 after stealing fruit from the pantry and fridge. He was the eldest among the couple's four children and was given small amounts of food including bread and water by the couple during his confinement.

The youngest daughter was also confined in the basement for several weeks, as a punishment for stealing food before she passed away. Michael showed the investigators the cardboard box where the girl's body was kept before it was buried. The skeleton was found buried under a barn on May 23 and has been sent for autopsy. The couple admitted that the daughter had not received proper medical or dental care for the last six years, prior to the investigation. 

Two other kids were occasionally locked inside the cage in the basement as well as in a specially built concrete room under the stairs, the documents state. The room in question had no running water and no electricity. Authorities saw a bucket inside the small room was filled with human feces and magazine pages used for wiping.

All the children, who appeared to be stunted in growth and had a lack of education for their age, were signed up for homeschooling, according to reports. Paperwork stating that all four of them were meeting all their home school assessments was signed by Shirley, despite the fact that one of the children was dead and another one was locked in the basement for years.

During the arraignment, an attorney asked for no bond to be granted to Michael Gray, due to the serious nature of the charges and the fact that he has lived at more than twenty residences in the past and is originally from out of state, where he still has family living.

"Obviously, the nature of the charges and the involvement of DCS suggest that minors (between the ages of 11 and 15) are involved. Because of this, and the ethical rules prohibiting the release of certain factual information to the media and the public, there will be no further comment at this time," prosecutors said in the release.

The Grays are not the children's biological parents but did have legal custody of them. "District Attorney General Russell Johnson stated that he does anticipate further charges and that ‘there is still more forensic evidence to be analyzed by the investigators and forensics experts which will still need to be reviewed by the prosecutors,’” Roane County District Attorney General Russell Johnson's Office said in a statement.