INVERNESS, Fla. (WFLA) – Detectives say it’s one of the worst abuse cases they’ve seen. A 54-year-old teacher from Inverness, Denise Hallowell, is behind bars, charged with aggravated child abuse. Hallowell was arrested Monday.
Detectives were looking for a child who had run 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 boy, he told them about his home life and the alleged abuse he faced from Hallowell, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The boy told detectives Hallowell kept him locked in a bedroom with just an air mattress and a bucket for a toilet, deputies said. The suspect allegedly nailed the room’s windows shut and “snowed” them out to prevent a view, deputies added.
The door was locked from the outside with both a regular lock and a chain lock, according to the Sheriff’s Office. “He 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. She said she locked him in to prevent him from running away again, deputies said. The victim told detectives he had “escaped” in 2012.
Hallowell allegedly beat the child. She slapped, punched and kicked him in his private areas. 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, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
In addition, the suspect called the victim “worthless” and would use vulgarities toward him, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Officials removed the child from the home. He’s 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.”