Of all that occurs in Walmart parking lots across the nation, the saddest crime scene might be this one.
Five dirty, malodorous children, ages 4 to 14 and weighing 30 to 50 pounds, were living in a Toyota with a bucket for their urine. The father and mother with them were described in the arrest report as appearing to be in “good overall physical health, relatively clean clothing and well-kept hair,” with no signs of malnourishment.
The children are in custody of the Department of Children and Family Services. Donell Barron and Rikki Hart, both 34, are in custody at the Palm Beach County Jail, each facing five counts of child neglect. According to the arrest reports, the pair are from Pittsburgh.
The deputy patrolling the area around the Walmart in Greenacres, near West Palm Beach, saw the car parked next to “The Wall,” a concrete wall separating the lot from the “high crime” Palo Verde apartment complex and a known favorite spot for drug merchants. When he ran the Florida license plate, the deputy found a registration to Hart and a seize-tag order.
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As he approached the car, the deputy smelled a foul odor “similar to that of homeless camps.” The one teenage boy and four girls had “dirty clothes” and “unkempt hair” and bone exposure that indicated emaciation.
While the 4-year-old’s and 5-year-old’s weights — 30 and 35 pounds — are in the lower 10th percentile for their age, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the 8-year-old’s 45 pounds put her at the fifth percentile, the other two were well underweight. The 6-year-old girl weighed only 28 pounds. The 14-year-old boy, at only four-foot, two inches, weighed 50 pounds. Barron claimed the boy had a digestive disorder since 2011, but was never taken to a doctor.
He admitted feeding the children only salad and bread, when he fed them at all. As other sheriff’s personnel arrived, they bought the children food from a nearby McDonald’s, which the kids “ravenously ate, as if they had not been fed in quite a while.”
Meanwhile, the deputy noticed Barron possessed an “average-muscular” build and Hart had an “average build with visible body fat.”
None of the children attended school. Barron admitted they occasionally bathed in a public park bathroom. When Greenacres Fire Rescue arrived, the paramedics quickly decided the children needed to be seen by a doctor immediately and took them to Palms West Hospital.
The deputy said Barron’s original story involved losing his job as a personal trainer and Hart losing her job with Chase Bank. The family lost their home in Port St. Lucie a year ago. After 10 months of living in hotels, their money ran out and they’d been living in the Walmart parking lot the last two months. He said he practices law after three years of law school, but isn’t a lawyer.
That story, the deputy said, later changed to Barron never attending law school, losing all his money in the stock market and being evicted in May. Records show a 2011 forcible entry and detainer filed in Port St. Lucie against the couple by their landlord.
Barron applied for food stamps or Medicaid last week. He didn’t pursue other avenues of help. And there were some. Saturday, the family wound up receiving food, cloting and toys from the Helping Hands Assistance Program.
Helping Hands’ Timothy and Lorraine Motlow told The Palm Beach Post Barron and Hart “are loving parents. They were doing all they can. The kids were happy and very loving with their parents. Things just snowballed for them.”
The Motlows said Hart and Barron did not realize how dire their children’s health was. Lorraine Motlow said fire rescue workers told her the boy wouldn’t have lasted in the ar much longer.
“We didn’t realize he was 14 because he was so small and tiny,” Lorraine Motlow said.