Dollar child abuse: Survivors of childhood torture speak out
Citrus County, Florida - It was a house of horrors. Photographs of the homeowners show them smiling, but the Citrus County couple hid a dark secret. It was a secret that five years later still shocks a veteran investigator.
"No child should have to go through something like that," says Citrus County Sheriff's Captain Jim Cernich, "and yes, it was definitely torture."
In 2005, John and Linda Dollar were the subject of a nationwide manhunt. The couple took off after investigators discovered their secret: the Dollars had been abusing five of their eight adopted children for years.
The kids were forced to sleep in a closet. A wind chime hung on the door served as an alarm. They were beaten with a hammer, shocked with a cattle prod and starved for days on end.
At the time, the spokesperson for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office compared the conditions to a concentration camp.
"I've seen pictures of the children," Gail Tierney said, "they have very sweet faces, but when you look at their bodies it looks like Auschwitz."
One of the big questions in this case is how the abuse was kept hidden for so long. Investigators say the family moved around a lot, home-schooled the children and kept the kids indoors so much that neighbors never saw them.
"People just weren't aware," says Cernich.
The Dollars pleaded no contest to child abuse and are now serving 15 year prison terms. Because of state privacy laws, what happened to all of the children is unclear, but for the very first time two of the survivors are speaking out.
Andrew Shevlin was one of the kids trapped in the closet. "We would just talk in the closet about being free and just how much of a miracle it would be to experience a real family," says Andrew, now 19.
That miracle happened when David and Tracey Shevlin adopted Andrew and his twin brother Alex. The teens thought they'd never find a new "forever" family.
"I thought I would be 18, still in foster care and just be kicked out on my own," says Alex.
Alex is now a leader in a Christian youth program in San Antonio, Texas and Andrew remains with his siblings in the Shevlin's home just north of Dallas.
"Andrew is my best friend," says 15-year-old Sierra Shevlin. "Me and him clicked from the very beginning."
When the 14-year-old brothers were rescued, they each weighed less than 40 pounds. In their new home, the boys had to learn normal eating patterns and counseling has helped them overcome their traumatic past.
"I tried so hard to push it out of my mind, to feel normal, a lot of it I just don't even remember," Andrew says of the torture.
Now the two brothers are building new memories with a new loving family. "We can sit back now and say that it has just been a huge blessing for our entire family," says David Shevlin.
"Absolutely," Tracey chimes in.
One of the reasons Shevlin family is sharing their story, is to encourage other families to consider adopting older children in foster care.
It's a happy ending to a story that began with a horrific secret. After seeing video of the boys Cernich says, "To look at those boys today and to know what they looked like five years ago, it's just a miracle."