DELTONA, Florida -- When a 6-year-old boy came knocking on a neighbor’s door shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday morning complaining about being cold and hungry, it was obvious to the neighbor that something was wrong.
The boy then proceeded to tell the neighbor that he was allegedly locked out of his house and had been forced to sleep on the patio as a punishment. Concerned for the boy’s welfare, the neighbor gave the child a blanket and potato chips and called the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office for help. The call set off a criminal investigation that resulted in a Deltona couple being arrested for felony child neglect.
When deputies arrived at the scene, they say the boy told them that he had been forced to sleep on the back porch for three days. He also told deputies that he’s fed rice for lunch and dinner every day, and when there’s no rice, he’s given lettuce to eat. He also said that when he’s not put out on the porch, he’s often locked in the garage like a virtual prisoner and only let in the house a couple of times a day to use the bathroom.
The neighbor said during call to police that he’s not sure if everything the boy was saying was the truth. “I don’t know if what everything he’s saying is true,” the man told a Sheriff’s Office dispatcher. “I just know from my point of view, something is not right here.” The dispatcher reassured the man several times, telling him: “You definitely did the right thing.”
One of the responding deputies noted that there was no bed or bedroom furniture of any kind on the screened-in porch. The deputy, she wrote in her report, “did not see a location where a child could sleep comfortably in 50 degree temperature.”
Deputies then went to the child’s house to ask the defendants, 47-year-old John Haley and his 41-year-old wife, Stephanie Haley, if they knew where the boy was. At first, officials say the couple claimed that he should be asleep in one of the bedrooms. When deputies informed them that he was at a neighbor’s house cold and hungry and complaining about being forced to sleep on the porch, John Haley initially acted shocked at the news. But deputies say that he later admitted that he and his wife make the boy sleep on the porch as punishment for stealing and eating too much. And he added that neither of them thought that the punishment was in any way neglectful.
Deputies arrested the couple and took them to the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach, Florida for processing. The Florida Department of Children and Families also responded to the scene to take custody of the six other children at the house -- three boys and three girls, ranging in age from 1 to 15. DCF was expected to turn over the children to a relative for care.