Police officers found a naked 5-year-old boy locked in an airless attic where the temperature was over 100 degrees when they arrived at a home in Lowell Thursday, city police said.
The boy's 27-year-old mother is facing charges, her apartment has been condemned as unsanitary, and her four children have been taken away from her, police said today in a statement.
Kristin Paquette pleaded not guilty today in Lowell District Court to charges of assault and battery on a child causing bodily injury and reckless endangerment of a child under 18. She was ordered held on $10,000 cash bail.
Police said that they received an anonymous call at about 2:43 p.m. alerting them to a young child in the attic of 15 Lenox St. The officers found the child in the attic covered in feces, amid an overwhelming odor of feces and urine.
When police asked how long her son had been in the attic, Paquette "replied with a very nonchalant manner and tone, 'maybe an hour or so. I'm not too sure,'" according to the police report.
Paquette told police that she had put her son in the attic because she could not control him and he would "interrupt cleaning" when she was trying to clean the apartment, the report said.
Paquette's 6-year-old son told police that his brother "was bad so Mommy put him upstairs and changed the door handle,'' the report said. The boy said it wasn't the first time his brother had been locked in the attic and that it happened "a lot."
It should be noted that as we walked to the staircase which led to the attic the hallway was completely filthy and the floor could not be seen because of the spoiled food, trash and clothing that were lying on it," the report said.
There was one window in the attic and it was locked with nails to the window sill. Police said the temperature inside the attic was more than 100 degrees.
The Department of Children and Families took custody of all four of Paquette's children; the other three are 5, 6, and 9. A spokeswoman for the agency said two of the children, including the 5-year-old, have been placed in foster care and the other two have been placed with relatives. Inspectors from the city's health department condemned the apartment.
“The conditions that the responding officers were witness to were nothing short of inhuman," Deputy Superintendent Arthur Ryan said in the statement. "I want to express our sincere appreciation to the anonymous caller who let us know that this was happening; and to that person: Your brief call alerting us to this situation could very well have saved a life.”
Paquette's father, Alfred Paquette, who attended his daughter's arraignment, told reporters afterward, "My daughter is not an evil person like they tried to make her out to be. She has a child that needs special help.''
He said his 5-year-old grandson had a chronic lung disease, suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and acts "like a child on steroids.'' He added that his daughter is a single mother, struggling to raise her children alone without any help from their fathers, and has been trying unsuccessfully to get help for the 5-year-old.
"It's not all her fault or his, she was just totally overwhelmed,'' Alfred Paquette said. "She had a hard time dealing with him because he was very combative."
Alfred Paquette said he had been at his daughter's apartment earlier in the day Thursday when he picked up his 9-year-old grandson to take him to a Red Sox game, and that the 5-year-old "just came downstairs and he was fine. There was absolutely no problem.''
He also disputed police claims that the apartment smelled of urine and feces. "The house wasn't neat and tidy, but shouldn't have been condemned,'' he said.
Paquette said the attic, which is upstairs from his daughter's second-floor apartment, contains two bedrooms.
The police report said that when officers unlocked a door at the top of the stairs leading to the attic they found the boy "completely naked, covered in feces from head-to-toe crying to "go downstairs.''
The room was covered in human feces and there were several children's finger markings along the wall, made with feces, that appeared to have been there for a considerable amount of time, the report said.
The boy also had several minor bumps on his forehead, the report said.
Paquette said his five-year-old grandson "comes down late at night and throws food around and he fights with his brothers and he bangs his head against walls. That's probably why he had bumps on his head.''
Alison Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, would not disclose whether the agency had any prior dealings with Kristin Paquette or her children.
But Alfred Paquette said he did not believe that any state or city agency had been involved with his daughter or her family.
In court today, Kristin Paquette looked subdued and didn't speak, letting her lawyer enter the not guilty plea on her behalf.
Her attorney, Kathleen Moore, who unsuccessfully urged the judge to release Paquette without posting any cash bail, said, "This is certainly sensational, but also a tragic and sad situation. She's a woman who needed help but didn't know how to ask for it.''
It's not the first brush Paquette has had with the law. Two days after Christmas 2004, she was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after her then live-in boyfriend told police she stabbed him in the arm during a heated argument in the laundry room at their Lenox Street apartment. The case was initially continued without a finding, while Paquette was placed on probation and ordered to undergo anger management, then the case was closed in 2006, according to court records.
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