Gravelles tell their side of story

Date: 2005-10-24

Gravelles tell their side of story

Mark Puente
Plain Dealer Reporter

Clarksfield Township – More than six weeks after having their 11 special-needs children removed from their home, Michael and Sharen Gravelle came out of hiding to tell the world their side of the story.

“We took kids that nobody else wanted,” Michael said while giving a tour of their rural home near Wakeman to a Plain Dealer reporter and photographer on Sunday. “We’re trying to help children. That’s where our heart is.”

Huron County authorities removed the children on Sept. 9 after receiving a tip that the youngsters, ranging in age from 1 to 14, were sleeping in cagelike structures.

David Sherman, the Gravelles’ Westlake lawyer, was not aware of Sunday’s tour. The Gravelles have not been charged with any crime, but custody hearings are scheduled for Thursday and Dec. 6. The children are in four foster homes.

This was the first time that the parents have spoken to the media about the children they adopted, who suffer from behavioral disorders ranging from defiant rages to a craving to eat nonfood items.

The Gravelles pointed out holes the children had kicked in the walls and gouges in the drywall from their fingernails. Urine stains can be seen on the baseboards, and the walls still show marks where the children had smeared their feces.

“We live with this smell,” Sharen said. “We love these children.”

Michael said he could no longer remain quiet while people label his wife as the “world’s most evil mother.” Prosecutor Russ Leffler said Friday that the couple was adopting children for a financial windfall.

“You could not pay me enough to do the things we had to do,” a tearful Michael said. “There is nothing easy about raising these children. We did not abuse them. That’s the truth.”

Sharen opened a stack of checks from various agencies that have piled up since the kids were removed. The couple chose not to open them and some are a month old, she said.

“If we were in this for the money, they would be cashed,” she said, pointing to old utility bills that totaled hundreds of dollars. “Do you know how much it costs to feed 11 kids?”

Michael said people thought they were crazy for adopting 11 children. He said they started out with three children and then realized this was their calling.

Most attention has focused on the children’s sleeping quarters, where the homemade bunk-bed frames are enclosed with chicken wire.

Michael said that was done — and every shelf and cupboard in the house was covered with chicken wire — to prevent the kids from hurting themselves with glass or eating dozens of different medicines.

“I felt terrible about it,” he said. “But it’s necessary.”

When most parents put their kids to bed, it’s usually a relief, Sharen said.

“They can say, ‘Whew.’ We could not. We cried for three hours before we enclosed the beds.”

County authorities initially said the “cages” were built into the walls.

The tour showed, however, that there are six enclosures in two of the four upstairs bedrooms. One bedroom has a vaulted ceiling and a block of four enclosures built to fit against the ceiling’s contour.

The enclosures all measured six feet in length. Their doors could be opened easily and had no locks on them, but a battery-powered alarm would be activated when the doors were opened.

Only the closets, which were full of clothes, were locked. The house was filled with toys, books and movie videos.

Michael said the children’s private social worker, Elaine Thompson of Elyria, counseled the kids in a room next to the bedrooms.

“If you can call these cages, take me to jail right now,” Michael said. “Right now.”

Leffler said Saturday the county did nothing with the tips about abuse in 2003 and 2004.

“It appears they resurrected some old information” to get in the house last month, he said, referring to family service workers.

When asked to comment about the earlier tips, Sharen said: “We would have let them in if they knocked. We have nothing to hide.”

She said the couple intend to fight to have the children returned.

“My kids are all I care about,” she said sobbing. “My kids are my life. I want my kids back.”

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 440-934-0524

© 2006 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.


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