The father of 11 children and teens found living in squalor in rural Burke County surrendered to authorities Friday morning and has been charged with cruelty to children.
Jeremy Long, 37, who investigators said lives in the 2000 block of Wrightsboro Road in Augusta, turned himself in at the Burke County Sheriff's Office at about 8:30 a.m., Sheriff Greg Coursey said.
Deputies in Richmond and Burke counties had been searching for him since July 31, when police found his children and their mother living in a secluded home off Springhill Church Road with no running water, no electricity and no food except two cans of jelly.
The property's caretaker, Richmond County Board of Education member Marion Barnes, said Friday the family was staying in the house without his knowledge.
The children wore ragged clothes and had never attended school in Burke County, sheriff's Capt. Frankie Parker said on the day of the discovery.
Mr. Long is charged with second-degree cruelty to children. He was being held Friday at the Burke County jail with no bond set. The children's mother, Christine Long, 38, and her 18-year-old daughter were placed in a motel earlier this week, and the community was rallying around the family with donations.
Asked why only the father has been charged, Sheriff Coursey referred the question to District Attorney Ashley Wright. Ms. Wright would not directly answer when contacted.
"This investigation is not over, and until we know more, we have to sit tight," she said. "We need to wait until all the information comes in." Questions linger about how so many children could live in such conditions without being detected by authorities. Sheriff Coursey said last week there is no record of Department of Family and Child Services contact with the family and that they were not receiving government assistance.
The children were squatting on the property, Mr. Barnes said. He pays the taxes on the 75-acre parcel, which is under the name of his deceased uncle, Scott Madison.
Mr. Barnes' aunt, Pearl Scott, once lived in the house. After her death in 2001, Mr. Barnes said, he rented the house for a short time. As far has he knew, it had been vacant for about four years.
He said an elderly man who lived nearby used to watch over the property for him, but he died.
Mr. Barnes admitted to being an "absentee landlord." He said he hasn't been there in more than a year.
"What is there for me to check? I don't farm. I don't fish," he said.
The land behind the house has become a dump site, strewn with household garbage, broken appliances, roof shingles, car tires, even a fiberglass bass boat. Trash was being stuffed into a couple of sheds in the backyard, which were packed almost to the ceiling.
Mr. Barnes said he was unaware of the property's condition. He said he plans to go to there Monday with family members.
"The only thing I can do is try to clean it up," he said. "It's an unfortunate situation, but it's something I have no control over."
The Long children range in age from nine months to 18. All but the 18-year-old are in foster care through DFACS.
A juvenile court hearing has been scheduled Monday to gauge their progress.
Capt. Parker said police discovered the family while looking for suspects in the theft of a chain saw from a nearby home.
Staff writer Timothy Cox contributed to this article.
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org