A Berwyn, Illinois mother faces felony charges after authorities responding to the death of her 14-year-old son discovered that the boy and his siblings had been living in squalor among more than 200 animals.
Lydia Price, 49, was charged Monday with criminal abuse and neglect of a disabled person and endangerment of a child, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Neighbors of the Berwyn, Illinois family told NBC Chicago 14-year-old Matthew Degner's lifeless body was dragged outside by family members Thursday, who presumably hoped that authorities would not look inside the west suburban home. Police did, however, and were horrified by what they found.
“Our animal control officers who have been in some pretty horrific and disgusting environments said this home was easily the worst they’ve been in,’’ sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson told the Chicago Sun-Times.
According to the Tribune, several workers required medical treatment after being attacked by cats while trying to remove them from the home.
Degner was pronounced dead at MacNeal Hospital Thursday afternoon. An autopsy showed that he died from bronchopneumonia. A neighbor of the family told My Suburban Life that Degner was mentally handicapped and unable to care for himself.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took custody of three of the boy's siblings, ages 12 to 17, according to the Chicago Tribune. A fourth sibling, who is 18, was hospitalized.
Officials told NBC that all of the children were suffering from flu-like symptoms recently.
From the Tribune:
Officials said it was unclear whether the animals or living conditions were responsible for the children's illnesses. A spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health said the agency's communicable disease unit had not been asked to respond as part of the investigation.
Neighbors told NBC that the children appeared malnourished and never attended school. DCFS told the Tribune they were kept in isolation, and rarely left the home they shared with their mother and grandmother.
"Social isolation is one of the most powerful risk factors for serious harm to children," DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe told the Tribune. "If we as a community never knock on that door that no one ever seems to open, we may never know how bad it is or how we can help."
Birds were flying freely in the home and dozens of cats were sick, hungry and surrounded by feces. Animal Control also found dogs, rabbits, squirrels, one raccoon, two monkeys and two kinkajous, according to NBC. The Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge helped remove the animals, bringing 196 of them to their southwest suburban shelter. CBS Chicago reports that 109 cats had to be euthanized due to illness. Anyone wishing to help with the rescued animals can visit AnimalWelfareLeague.com or call (708) 636-8586.
Lydia Price has been held at the Berwyn police station since Friday, according to NBC. Degner's father has been in prison since 2008 after an alleged armed home invasion, the Tribune reports.