SISSONVILLE, W.Va. — Two Kanawha County residents face charges of gross child neglect after the disturbing discovery of three children who were essentially held captive in two locations in the Sissonville community.
Donald Ray Lantz, 63, and Jeanne Kay Whitefeather, 61, both of Sissonville, were arrested Monday night on felony charges of gross child neglect creating a substantial risk of injury.
Kanawha County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a home on Cheyenne Lane in Sissonville Monday evening after 911 received a call regarding the welfare of the children.
Deputies found two juvenile children, a boy age 14 and girl age 16, locked inside a 20 x 14 foot room in a shed. Investigators said the children had no way to exit the building no running water, no bathroom, and had been obviously deprived of adequate hygienic care and food.
“I observed the children in dirty clothes and smelled of body odor suggesting they had not bathed in several days. I observed the male juvenile to be barefoot and what appeared to be sores on his feet,” the investigating deputy H.K. Burdette wrote in the criminal complaint.
According to the criminal complaint, the room had a concrete floor and plywood walls. There was a table and chair, but no beds and no plumbing. There was an RV potty sitting on a black tarp, but no functioning toilet. Investigators also observed a camera in the room. The room had no windows and the door was locked from the outside. The children would have been unable to get out in the event of a medical emergency or fire.
A neighbor told deputies they believed the children were made to do farm work, but were not allowed inside the home.
Sgt. Joshua Lester of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office on the arrest of a Sissonville couple after police made a disturbing discovery of three children being held captive.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 3, 2023
“The female juvenile stated their parents brought them food at approximately 6 a.m. but they had been in the room and had no contact with them. The female juvenile also stated she and her 14-year old brother were not allowed inside the house and were locked in the shed for long periods of time daily,” Deputy Burdette added in the criminal complaint.
“They didn’t have any type of plumbing, there was no bathroom facilities they appeared to be malnourished and appeared to have been denied any kind of hygiene. The conditions were just appalling,” said Sgt. Josh Lester of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department.
At the main residence a third, smaller child was found locked inside the home. The child was in an unprotected loft about 15 feet high.
“I observed a small child through the window appearing to be five or six years old, sitting alone on the floor in the loft. I observed the child to be crying and close to the railing of a 15-foot drop off from the loft. Due to the distressed condition of the child and the risk of her falling, forced entry was made into the residence to secure the child,” wrote Deputy Burdette.
Criminal Investigators from the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Child Protective Services were soon on the scene. There were no caretakers present when deputies arrived. However, the adoptive parents, Lantz and Whitefeather, did show up while deputies were there. Lantz arrived about 8:30 p.m. and Whitefeather got there around 9:45 p.m.
“They learned while they were there these adoptive parents have two additional adopted children. So they are also investigating the condition of them because they were not at the residence when deputies were there,” Lester said.
It’s unclear where those children were located or their conditions.
“Ms. Whitefeather made the admission to Detective Alford that the children were left in the shed, but stated, ‘They like it.’ ” read the criminal complaint.
Lantz and Whitefeather are being held in the South Central Regional Jail on $200,000 each.
MetroNews went to the residence on Cheyanne Lane Tuesday morning and spoke with one of the neighbors who did not want to be identifed due to safety concerns, but they said the situation was unsettling and very strange.
The neighbor said the family had been living there for about five months, and they started to notice something odd about the situation after about two months in.
They observed the couple would make the children work long hours, carrying buckets of water up and down the property to feed and water the animals they kept. The neighbor said the couple kept many animals, including more exotic ones such as wallabies.
The resident told MetroNews that many neighbors had already tried to call CPS but nothing was being done about the situation until now.
They said they didn’t know what all was going on at the residence, but one thing was was clear– they didn’t want anyone seeing what was inside the barn where two of the children were discovered