11 children found in squalid rural house

HEPHZIBAH --- Deputies in Richmond and Burke counties are searching for an Augusta man after finding 11 of his children living in a home without electricity or running water.

Police made the discovery on Spring Hill Church Road in rural Burke County on Thursday afternoon while looking for suspects in the theft of a chainsaw, according to Burke County sheriff's Capt. Frankie Parker.

Inside the home, they found the children, ages 9 months to 18 years old, along with their mother. The children were wearing ragged clothes, and aside from two cans of jelly, there was no food inside, according to Sheriff Greg Coursey.

"She said they were eating jelly sandwiches and had eaten some chicken before we got there," Sheriff Coursey said.

The home is located off a dirt road with few neighbors nearby. Investigators said that had the children not attempted to steal from their neighbor, who lives across a field full of tall grass, police might never have known about the conditions at the home.

After checking with the local school system, investigators said none of the 11 children has ever attended school. Capt. Parker said the mother, 38-year-old Christine Long, claimed to be teaching the children from home, but there are no records of her registering with the Burke County school system nor were there school books in the home.

"The first girl could write her name and date of birth," said Capt. Parker, who handed out a pad and pens to the kids in order to get their information. "The second girl couldn't figure it out, and it just started going downhill from there."

Investigators say they believe the children's father, Jeremy Long, lives in the 2000 block of Wrightsboro Road in Richmond County. He is wanted on charges of child abandonment and child neglect, with more charges to come, Capt. Parker said.

Aside from the 18-year-old, the children have been taken by the Department of Family and Child Services and are now in foster care. Their mother is staying in a local motel and also could face charges, police said.

A slew of cats and kittens, along with an old mutt, were the only remaining tenants as investigators were photographing the home Friday afternoon. Without any electricity, the only light came from the open flume in the fireplace and holes in the walls and ceiling -- just enough to see several crayon drawings of Spider-Man lining the wall.

Two brown refrigerators were empty in the kitchen, balanced on a patchwork floor of exposed plywood. A casette tape from DFACS labeled Childproofing Your Home: Keeping Kids Safe and Healthy , was visible in the backyard along with countless old tires and empty buckets.

The conditions described by police are criminal, said Charles Jackson, the chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Special Education in the Augusta State University College of Education.

"I've never heard of anything like this," said Dr. Jackson, who holds a doctorate degree in educational psychology. "I've read literature about feral children as an undergrad, but nothing recent."

The children likely have poor reading, math and social skills; malnutrition and health, dental, psychological and emotional issues, he said.

"There are a whole host of concerns," Dr. Jackson said. "I would like to know where the authorities have been."

It's not unusual for there to be uneasiness associated with home-schooling, but a situation in which children are without school for so long is more extreme, he said.

"You're talking about intellectual deprivation," Dr. Jackson said.

Sheriff Coursey said there is no record of the family contacting DFACS nor were they on any kind of government assistance. Dena Smith, a spokeswoman for DFACS, confirmed that the family had never been a part of the their system.

Burke County school Superintendent Linda Bailey said a counselor and social worker will work with the family as the children enter school.

"We're going to do everything we possibly can do to make the transition smooth," Mrs. Bailey said.

Staff Writer Greg Gelpi contributed to this article.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.