MANCHESTER, TN (WSMV) – The sister of a mother who was arrested Tuesday on eight counts of child abuse and neglect is painting a grim picture of a reclusive family at the center of the case.
Stephanie Hicks says she and her family members were rarely allowed to see the eight children, ages 1 to 10. The children have now been removed from a trailer where trash was piled and feces was found on the floors and walls.
“We’ve been praying for these kids for years,” says Hicks. “Outside of maybe 3 or 4 times, we were never allowed to actually have contact with them.”
Hicks describes the last time she saw all the children as Thanksgiving 2017, nearly two years ago. She said the children did not look malnourished at the time, but it was clear something was wrong.
“Have you ever seen a dead broke horse? One that’s just there but there’s nothing left to it -- it’s just a blank stare? That’s what the children were like.”
The parents of the eight children, Andrea Lynn Arthur and Alonzo Dewite Maxin, were arrested Tuesday after an investigation which began last month.
Investigators said the children were living in horrible conditions, noting the strong smell of urine, feces on the floor, and trash everywhere when deputies arrived.
Hicks says she personally called authorities four different times to perform welfare checks on the children. Two of those times were when the family was living in New Jersey, the other two were when the family was living in McMinnville, TN.
“After pushing for so long and so many times and nothing getting done and when authorities did try to move in and do something they would just pick up and take off,” says Hicks who noted Arthur and Maxin moved to New Jersey, Georgia and different parts of Tennessee.
“Our biggest fear as a family was that they would just disappear and we would never see them again,” says Hicks. “Even though they weren’t letting us see the kids, we at least knew where they were.”
Hicks described her sister in the years prior to meeting Maxin, saying Arthur had been good with children and had a good job.
“Before her and Alonzo had met, she had gone to school and gone to nursing school and was working at a nursing home and was doing really well for herself,” says Hicks. “I don’t understand how she could’ve gone from who I knew growing up to what it is now. Something bad must’ve happened to her to turn her in to what did this.”
Hicks said–short of kidnapping the eight children—there wasn't anything the family could do to help the children.
“Our hands were tied by the law. There’s only so much we could do,” Hicks said. “We could’ve just kidnapped the kids and got them out.”
In August, a neighbor called authorities saying a young girl was eating out of a trash can in the trailer park. Officers attempted to catch the girl and eventually tracked down her parents. The parents let deputies inside the trailer to see the deplorable condition.
The children were immediately removed from the home and cared for by relatives until a report was released by Vanderbilt doctors who evaluated the children.
Sgt. James Sherrill with the Coffee County Sheriffs Office said the doctors’ evaluation noted the kids had been "beaten, starved, and tortured." Court records said the children stated they've been severely beaten for years and have psychological and physical injuries.
"It's probably one of the worst cases I've ever seen," Sherrill said. "It just breaks your heart just to see what was inside the house that they had to live with."
In a crime report from the Coffee County Sheriffs Office, deputies say the children did not attend school and the mother told them she was homeschooling the kids.
The eight children have been separated into smaller groups and are staying with family members. Hicks describes them now as “coming out of their shells” and says they are doing really well.
“The kids have a long road of healing ahead of them. It’s going to take a long time for them to overcome what they’ve been through.”