Adoptive parent's mother: Children weren't abused

Date: 2005-09-14

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

"They're not guilty," 84-year-old Mildred Brent Timperman said flatly. The "they" she was referring to are her daughter, Sharen, and son-in-law, Michael Gravelle, whose 11 special-needs adopted children were removed from their home Friday after county authorities said the children had to sleep in cages.

The Gravelles have not been charged with any crime, but authorities are investigating and have said charges are a possibility.

The couple hasn't been seen in the neighborhood since Friday evening after the children were removed from the home, according to the Gravelles' next-door neighbor, Sheri Hall.

Timperman wouldn't say where the couple is, but said they have retained an attorney and will fight in the courts to get their children back.

Timperman, who is also the Gravelles' next-door neighbor on St. John Road in Clarksfield Township, said her late husband once warned their daughter in the 1990s about adopting the children, who are all black, because of racism they would encounter. The Gravelles are white.

The Gravelles didn't take the children to church because of their race, as they felt the children would not be accepted, Timperman said.

"My husband told her, ÔYou don't know the problems they're going to bring you.' She said, ÔI guess I'll find out."'

Timperman spent a lot of time with the children and referred to them as her grandchildren.

"I'm mad for what they are doing to the children and to the family," Timperman said of the authorities and news media who have "swarmed" the neighborhood.

A social worker who went to the house Friday about 2 p.m. said she saw at least two children "contained inside cages and noted there were a total of nine cages in the residence," according to the paperwork for a search warrant.

The nine wood and fencing wire cages, approximately 30 inches wide, 40 inches high and 4 feet long, were stacked two high and used for sleeping, according to Huron County Sheriff Richard Sutherland.

The social worker went to the house to investigate a complaint of the children working abnormally long hours in a garden and yard, according to sheriff's Lt. Randy Sommers.

After seeing the cages and that the cages had mats instead of bedding, the sheriff's department was contacted, according to the search warrant paperwork.

A few hours later, two 3-year-olds, two 7-year-olds, two 8-year-olds, a 1-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 9-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old were removed from the house and placed in emergency foster homes, according to the Huron County Sheriff's office.

"We'd have to send a crew of carpenters in there to remove them," said Sommers of the cages that remain in the Gravelle home. Sommers said the sheriff's office is "waiting to hear from (Huron County Prosecutor Russ) Leffler" on whether to collect the cages as criminal evidence.

"They're built to last," he said of the cages that are nailed firmly into the home.

The children came from "Indiana and Kentucky orphanages" and some have medical problems, said Timperman.

"No one else wanted them." The 1-year-old had "four surgeries when she was born. She was a preemie," said Timperman.

The children's room were found bare of the typical toys and furnishings in children's room and had cages for beds, according to Sommers.

Quincy Land, of the Oberlin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he intends to have a discussion with the president of the Oberlin NAACP chapter about the children.

The NAACP is a civil rights group that investigates rights' violations that happen to anyone, regardless of race, Land said.

While Land was not familiar with the specific details of the case, he said anyone who places a child in a cage "belongs in a cage themselves."

"I've never seen anything quite like this," Sommers said of the cages.

"If it slipped under the radar, someone, somewhere will be held accountable," said Sommers of the ongoing criminal investigation. Sommers said he does not know whether any state or local agency oversaw the Gravelles' home.

Michael Gravelle, 56, was considered the "home-teacher" while Sharen Gravelle, 57, was referred to as the children's "home-mother," Timperman said.

hrcfowler@aol.com

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