Witness: Couple used Taser on one of two missing boys

Date: 2011-03-10
Source: gazette.com

By LANCE BENZEL

Investigators probing the disappearance of two adopted boys who went missing while living near Monument in the early 2000s say they have received reports that one of the children was abused with a Taser.

Austin Eugene Bryant was no older than 10 when he told a friend that his adoptive parents Edward and Linda Bryant shocked him with the device, an El Paso County sheriff’s detective said in court documents.

At the time, Austin's torso was covered in welts, the boy’s friend told police in January. He also frequently had black eyes and cuts on his face.

In addition to the electrical shocks, Austin’s friend — now 20 — said the boy was rolled up in blankets and left immobile on the floor and that he was possibly also confined in a trunk in the couple’s garage.

Austin and his biological brother, Edward Dylan Bryant, went missing between 2001 and 2005, a period during which their adoptive parents lived on Granite Circle in a wooded area in the foothills west of Monument.

Edward is believed to have disappeared in 2001, when he was nine. Austin was last seen between 2003 and 2005, when he was between seven and nine.

No missing persons reports were ever made to the sheriff's office, authorities said.

Linda Bryant and Edward Bryant, who moved to Texas in 2005, are in custody in the El Paso County jail on a $1 million bond, accused of collecting more than $170,000 worth of public benefits to raise the missing boys.

Both were identified as "special-needs children," entitling the couple to monthly payments from the El Paso County Department of Human Services after the adoption, authorities said.

The pair forged various documents to make it appear the boys still lived with them and their other adopted children, and continued to receive payments for the pair even after their move to Texas, authorities alleged.

The couple adopted nine children, seven of whom are accounted for.

Since their arrest in late February, the Bryants have both said the boys ran away — but they gave conflicting accounts of when, authorities said.

“Each day that passes, the faith of finding them alive diminishes,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said Thursday during a wide-ranging news conference in which the sheriff took questions about the case.

The sheriff’s office is asking anyone who knew the children to call a special tip line at 719-520-7209.

Detectives are canvassing the rural subdivision near Monument, enlisting search dogs to hunt for clues in the surrounding woods. Investigators are examining satellite imagery collected by the county’s Geographical Information Systems to search for changes in the area's topography, such as landscaping features, piles of rock or concrete slabs that might have cropped up around the time of the boys' disappearance.

Those features could help narrow the search for possible remains, said Joe Breister, chief of the sheriff's law enforcement bureau.

Maketa said his deputies have contacted a federal agency to develop age-progression imagery showing what the boys might look like today.

Austin would be 15, and Edward would be 18.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office began investigating Jan. 22 after two of Austin's boyhood friends stepped foward with their suspicions about his sudden disappearance more than five years earlier.

In the course of the probe, detectives discovered that Edward Dylan Bryant also disappeared.

Linda Bryant, 54, and Edward Bryant, 58, were living in separate Texas cities at the time of their arrests, on Feb. 25. During the week, five adopted children lived with Linda Bryant in Lake Kiowa near Gainesville. They spent weekends with their father in Denton, where he works with the city utilities department, authorities said.

The five children are in the custody of Texas child welfare authorities.

One of the adopted Bryant children is in the Army, and another is incarcerated.

The couple were extradited to Colorado March 4 and booked into the El Paso County jail. They are being held on two counts of felony theft, conspiracy and multiple counts of forgery and attempt to influence a public official.

Linda Bryant initially told sheriff's investigators who traveled to Texas that that Austin and the younger Edward Bryant were away from Texas on a visit to family members. She later said they ran away, together, between 2003 and 2005.

The elder Edward Bryant also said the boys ran away but provided a different timeline.

An adopted brother, James Bryant, said Austin was routinely deprived of food until he developed the habit of eating out of the garbage can, authorities said. The brother said he also was spanked and possibly handcuffed.

Linda Bryant denied killing the boys or abusing them but admitted to "delaying food" to Edward and Austin as a punishment. She also allegedly acknowledged putting the boys’ lives at risk by not reporting them missing after they had run away at such a young age, authorities said.

“Ms. Linda Bryant said that she and her family moved to Texas for a ‘fresh start’ after what they had done,” sheriff’s detective William Otto said in an arrest affidavit.

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