On Wednesday, a heartbreaking scene occurred in an Iowa court as a nine-year-old boy, holding his stuffed Paw Patrol Chase dog and a Spiderman action figure, told the court that his father’s girlfriend locked him in a cement basement for at least nine hours a day in the summer of 2017, beat him with a wire handle of a flyswatter, and forced him to carry a backpack filled with rocks.
Traci Tyler, 40, and her boyfriend, Alex Shadlow, 30, the boy's father, are being tried on first-degree kidnapping charges.
The Daily Mail reports, “Authorities claim the couple 'intentionally subjected' the boy to 'physical and mental torture' in a 6-foot-by-6-foot area under the basement stairs for at least nine hours a day from July to September 2017. The basement had no light, furniture, or bedding and the boy had to pee in a tin coffee can. He was also never given food while inside the basement, prosecutors said.” Police also stated that the couple encouraged their dog to bite the boy.
According to the The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, “The boy described being hungry and ‘super cold’ in the basement room. He was afraid because Tyler had told him a dead dog was buried in the room with him. He said he slept sitting up with his arms around his legs to try to keep warm.” According to police, a makeshift door was locked from the outside; the boy was barred from the kitchen because the door was locked.
Police stated that the boy, who was abandoned by his birth mother, then put up for adoption, and finally placed with his father, has permanent scarring on his back and limbs and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Penny Osborn, a physician's assistant who examined the boy, said he had six scars on his back that were each between three to six inches in length. Police said Tyler stated that the boy was locked in the basement because of “bad behavior and food stealing.”
The Des Moines Register reported that on Tuesday, a video Tyler herself took of the boy was discussed in court; it showed him desperate to use the bathroom, in so much pain "he eventually loses control of his bodily function and urinates,” as Assistant Attorney General Tyler Buller noted. He added, "This part of the crime is on tape.”
One of Tyler's attorneys, Aaron Siebrecht, claimed Tyler had only been obeying the advice of medical professionals who told her that the boy had to get her permission before using the bathroom. The couple said the boy was having “accidents” in the house; multiple school officials stated that the boy had no record of that kind of behavior at school or in other people's homes.
Siebrecht added of Tyler, “She was desperate. She was trying to figure out what was wrong with this child. At the end of the day there is no intent, there is no injury; there is no kidnapping.” Tyler told Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Matthew Schalk that it was Shadlow who wanted the boy locked in the basement, and that she repeatedly checked on him.
Ackley Police Chief Brian Shimon said the case “just makes you sick.” He termed the boy’s confinement as being “locked in a dungeon.”
During the trial, after the boy admitted climbing on the counters of the home to find food, one of Tyler’s attorneys, Ted Fisher, asked, “That's the only naughty thing you did at the house?”
When the boy returned to school in the fall of 2017, teachers were concerned; he was gaunt and his hair was falling out. Susan Brandt, the boy's second-grade teacher, said in court, “He looked very pale, he looked very thin and I was very surprised by his appearance. I couldn't believe that that was the little boy that I knew the year before.”
Cam Schipper, the boy's third-grade teacher, said the boy “looked like a skeleton” and repeatedly said he was hungry." Principal Teresa Keninger testified, “He was not the same (boy) I last saw in May. He was not the same (boy) that we knew."
After he was caught stealing gum from another student’s locker, Schipper stated, the boy told her his situation: “He started talking about how he's hungry all the time, he doesn't get to eat food at home, and when he does try to get food at home he gets in trouble. He eventually started telling me about the place in the basement where he slept on the floor and it was dark.”
The school alerted the Department of Human Services; child protective worker Carol Allen arrived unannounced at the home in September 2017. At Allen’s prompting, Allen said, Tyler showed her the basement where Allen saw a puddle which Tyler told her was the boy’s urine. Allen said she asked, "Is there a light in there?" She got a negative response; she persisted, "What does he sleep on? Pillow, blanket, anything?" Allen said Tyler replied, "He just ruins those things, so he doesn't get those things."
Allen recalled, “I said, ‘This is unacceptable. This is abuse.’” Allen said she asked Tyler if she would sleep in the basement herself; she said Tyler answered, "I would behave."