A couple from Rouen County are accused of abusing four children after discovering the skeletal remains of a young girl buried in their backyard.
Authorities also found one of the surviving children, a boy of about 15, in the basement of the unfinished family home, where he appears to have been held for several years, according to arrest warrants.
Michael Anthony Gray Sr., 63, and his wife, Shirley Ann Gray, 60, appeared in a video trial on Tuesday to face two counts of aggravated child abuse, two counts of particularly aggravated kidnapping, three counts of severe child neglect and one counts of corpse abuse. .
Authorities were initially alerted when passers-by found a child walking alone along the road Friday evening near the suspect’s home by Dry Fork Valley Road in the Tin Mile community, Ninth Judicial District Attorney Russell Johnson said.
Michael Gray later admitted to investigators at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and State Children’s Services employees that he buried the roughly 10-year-old in a column barn in the backyard after her death in 2017.
He also admitted to having a boy locked up in the basement, which was partially flooded. The authorities later found the 15-year-old was still confined inside without running water, amid human and animal feces, garbage and mold.
The girl’s early remains were found from under a pole barn behind the house.
The cause of the child’s death has not yet been determined. The remains were taken to the Regional Forensic Center in Knoxville for an autopsy. Officials from the University of Tennessee’s Department of Anthropology are also providing assistance.
Johnson said the family, believed to be from the area near Meridian, Mississippi, has lived in the home since June 2016.
Within a month of moving home, the eldest child was locked up in the basement as punishment for stealing food from the pantry and refrigerator.
The memos state that “(the child) was locked up in the unfinished basement since this date and had no contact with anyone outside the basement, and only received small amounts of food, such as white bread and some water.”
Two other children were periodically locked inside a wire dog cage in the basement until Grays built a small concrete room – roughly three feet by four feet – under the stairs for confinement.
The girl was locked up in the basement in early 2017 as punishment for stealing food, giving her only bread and water. She died within a few months, according to the notes. Grays kept her body in a cardboard box until a grave was excavated.
None of the four children, who were presumably home educated, had received medical care for at least the past six years. Michael and Shirley Gray admitted that all four were diagnosed with “failure to thrive” during their last medical examination.
Shirley Gray provided documents stating that all four children were in full swing with the required educational assessments, even though the girl died and the older child was locked up in the basement, according to the notes.
The notes stated that the three surviving children appeared to be “suffering from stunted growth.”
(Two of the children) apparently had no formal education, “according to the notes,” and in fact, they were stunned at what the fridge was doing when they noticed one in their home.
Johnson said that they are not the biological children of Grays, even though the couple had legal custody.
He said that an investigation is underway and additional charges are expected.