Friends, family shocked

Date: 2006-07-23

Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC)

ABUSE allegations: Those who know the McCurrys wonder how they missed signs

Author: MONICA MERCER

The picture emerging of a Lyman couple accused of child abuse and neglect is a lot like random paint splatters on a big blank wall -- and friends and family aren't eager to be associated with it now that it's on full display.

"It's an absolute mess," said one family member (who married into Molly McCurry's family but did not want to be identified for fear of upsetting relatives) of the situation that came to light only after two arrests and a description on an incident report of three brothers so malnourished they looked like "skeletons."

In fact, the family member mostly found himself at a loss for words. With no sordid details to speak of, he echoed a common refrain: "We thought the kids were being taken care of."

Now the people loosely surrounding Dennis Scott McCurry, known to most as Scott, 30, and his wife, Molly, 29, wonder why they missed certain behaviors -- most glaringly the family's growing isolation -- that would have tipped someone off.

No names

Family and friends are adamant that Scott, in particular, could not have hurt his kids. They are equally adamant that their names not be published for fear of being connected to what they consider a shocking scenario: two parents sitting in jail, three small boys allegedly neglected and starved, and Scott himself admitting to the Department of Social Services that he sometimes tied them to bedposts.

The three boys are Molly's nephews and were placed with the McCurrys by DSS in 2003. When authorities removed them from the McCurry household July 13, the boys told investigators that they had been tied up to keep them away from food. The five-year-old weighed less than 20 pounds, the seven- and eight-year olds, less than 40.

Lawyers have advised both sides of the family not to say anything about Molly and Scott, making it even more difficult to speculate on how the situation could have spiraled out of control. Family members all say they "had no clue" that anything was wrong.

Holly Johnson, Molly's sister, and Elaine Cope, Scott's mother, both want custody of the McCurrys' 10-year-old daughter, who did not appear malnourished when put into the care of DSS. Cope had been eager to talk about her son on July 15, but has declined to talk any further. But she did defend him, saying, "My son is not a monster."

One person willing to share her observations is Calvary Baptist Church member Cindi Taylor, who last saw Molly and her daughter at their home in March. Taylor and another woman from the church made home visits to encourage the McCurrys to start attending regularly.

Taylor, like everyone else, expressed unease in talking about the situation. She said in the last few months the family had shut themselves away. And not once over six years and several visits would they let Taylor and her friend into their home.

Taylor said that she and her friend began "kicking themselves" at the time of the arrests, wondering if they should have done something differently during the March visit specifically.

"Molly came out on the porch (with her daughter) and shut the door," Taylor said. "I wish now I had asked the question, 'Where are the boys?'"

Taylor said that Molly did not seem interested in talking or being friendly. She described the McCurry family's level of involvement in the church as "sporadic" and "withdrawn."

"I don't think they had any friends," she said, characterizing them as people who came to church only when they needed financial help.

Taylor said that Scott's mother, Elaine Cope, first contacted the church on behalf of Molly and Scott around 2000 because of "financial problems," although Taylor did not know any specific reasons for such difficulties.

Cope has said that Scott worked "70 hours a week" as an electrician at Johnson Electric Co. in Greenville, but the company declined to comment on Scott's employment.

Since 2000, the church had been paying the occasional electric or water bill whenever the McCurrys would run short on cash. According to court documents, their mobile home is in the process of being repossessed because the McCurrys could not make the monthly payments.

Officers said that only the freezer of the McCurrys' refrigerator worked, and that very little food was in the house at the time the children were removed. Yet the family had been receiving $325 a month in Social Security payments for each boy, following the 2004 death of their father, Harley West.

Friends who might have been close to the McCurrys several years ago described a very different situation now.

Molly was a bridesmaid and Scott an usher in the 2000 wedding of a couple who did not want to be named. The wife said it was because she would be "totally embarrassed" now if people knew they had ever associated with the McCurrys.

"At one point we were good friends, but we just lost touch over the years," she said.

She described the McCurrys as never having a large circle of friends. Mirroring Taylor's statement, the former friend said that the McCurrys seemed to withdraw after the boys came to live with them.

"This is the first we've seen of Molly and Scott in a long time," the woman said, referring to the newspaper clippings that are now her only reminder of the pair in the past three years.

Despite not wanting to be connected to the McCurrys any more, the woman rigorously defended Scott -- without hesitation, just as his mother had done -- saying he could never have starved his children.

"They were always happy, good parents."

Members of the family, by all accounts, wanted to connect with the McCurrys to see the boys. But the estrangement just kept on growing to the point where the McCurrys began avoiding all family members. No one in the family could give any explanation for the retreat.

"We would go to visit, knock on the door, and no one would answer and we knew they were home," said a family member.

That person said that Molly and Scott were quite open with the kids at first, allowing the boys to visit different relatives over the weekends.

As time went on, though, he said that nobody really wanted to push visits because they were afraid that Molly and Scott would just get mad and further restrict access to the boys. Family members eventually "took what they could get," which was usually visitation at Kids Planet in Greer, if anything at all.

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said Saturday that the three boys, who are still in the custody of DSS, continue to recover.

Though isolation does not always signal an abusive situation, Wright said, "If all of a sudden people shut down, that would make me suspicious."

Monica Mercer can be reached at 562-7215 or monica.mercer@shj.com.

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