ENGLEWOOD, N.J. -- The two children -- a 15-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother -- were caught in a local supermarket last Friday night stuffing bagels, bologna, crackers and candy into book bags and taken, terrified, to the police department on shoplifting charges.
"They were frantic, not so much that they were caught shoplifting but that I was going to return them home," Detective Frank C. Jones recalled yesterday. "They were completely hysterical."
Under gentle questioning over the next hour or so, the two children told Detective Jones a story of living for months in isolation with two other children -- like them in foster care -- in a cramped and often locked attic room with no furniture, no lights, no heat and little food. They pried open the bolt lock a week ago Friday with a coat hanger and went out on their food foray because they were hungry, Detective Jones said. At the time, the couple raising them had gone out for a seafood dinner at a fast-food restaurant in Paramus, the detective said.
"The girl told us more or less they had to go out and steal to get an adequate amount of food," he said.
After the questioning, Detective Jones said, he went to the two-story gray home on Howland Avenue and found a 16-year-old girl sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the pitch-black attic room and a 10-year-old boy in diapers asleep on the floor.
The couple, Anthony James, 36, and his wife, Shirley, 39, were arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of the four children. Subsequently they were released on $10,000 bail each after a hearing in State Superior Court. The four children have been placed in the care of New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services. They were examined at Englewood Hospital and not found to be suffering from any serious physical ailments, Detective Jones said.
The other two children in the house, a foster daughter, 12, and the Jameses' son, 8, had their own bedrooms, the detective said.
He said the four children lived in the attic and had not attended school for months.
"They were imprisoned, more or less, in the attic," Detective Jones said yesterday.
Mostly, he said, the two boys were allowed out of the attic, aside from meals and toilet trips, only when the Jameses' 8-year-old son wanted to play with them outdoors.