Story of abuse unfolds
Three adopted children were removed from the Jim and Paige Nachtigal home in North Newton— a 14 year old girl, an 11 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. The oldest child was adopted about four years ago, with the 11 year old children adopted three years ago. They are not biological siblings, according to investigators.
By Chad Frey
Reaction after three children adopted from Peru have been removed from their North Newton Home and their adoptive parents arrested has ranged from rage to disbelief.
The parents, Jim and Paige Nachtigal, were active in business and ministry in the Newton community. Jim Nachtigal serves as the CEO of Kansas Christian Home. Paige Nachtigal is a former employee of the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce. Both were actively fund-raising to go to Peru as missionaries.
That reputation, and the felony charges that appeared Tuesday, led to a prayer walk around the Harvey County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center Wednesday morning — about 30 minutes prior to a press briefing inside by the Harvey County Sheriff's office.
“God calls us to walk in truth and that is what I am doing,” said Trenna Davenport, one of the walk's organizers. “I just believe in God and that he sent Jesus to testify to the truth, and I am praying for the truth.”
About a dozen people participated. They also attended a press conference at the courthouse about 30 minutes after the vigil began. Following the press conference, some walkers were in tears, based on what they heard.
They heard investigators and prosecutors allege physical abuse in addition to underfeeding two 11 year old children.
“This is the first time in my career, and I have been an attorney for 34 years now … that I have seen a medical diagnosis of child torture,” said David Yoder, county prosecutor. “I did not know there was a medical diagnosis of child torture until this case.”
Three children were removed from the Nachtigal home — a 14 year old girl, an 11 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. The oldest child was adopted about four years ago, with the 11 year old children adopted three years ago. They are not biological siblings, according to investigators.
It appears much of the alleged abuse was targeted at the 11 year old children.
“Some of it has to do with the fact that the older girl knew how to navigate around mom and dad and their emotions,” said Randy Jordan, Chief of Police for North Newton. “She knew what to do to not set them off. The younger ones, they are kids, and they did things that mom and dad called 'sinful.'"
The words sin and sinful appeared several times as investigators discussed the case Feb. 17. Jordan said he did not know if there was a heavy religious component to the abuse and discipline in the home.
According to a newsletter published by the Nachtigals online in January, both were working to join a ministry in Iquitos, Peru. That mission was to assist in a church plant and assisting women of the area in crisis. They had published much the same in starting a gofundme.com page that has apparently been discontinued.
The investigation into abuse began after the 11 year old boy was reported missing Feb. 6. The child was found by a Kansas Highway Patrol officer. According to Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton the child was walking barefoot in a field when he was found. When he was asked about leaving home, the child told investigators he had not done his homework and he had “sinned.” Allegedly, he was afraid to go back home because of the sinning he had done.
He did not admit to any abuse at that time. According to Jordan, the child had run away once previously.
However, Jordan launched an investigation two days later.
“A person close to the situation called 911 and asked to speak with one of my officers,” Jordan said. “That person told my officer that they had a concern that food was being withheld from the younger children and that there was some other types of abuse going on. When I learned of that report, I started making phone calls and setting up interviews.”
Feb. 11 the children were placed in protective custody by the North Newton Police Department over concerns about the treatment of the children. All three were examined by the Wesley Medical Center pediatric unit. One boy and one girl, both 11 years old, were found to be severely malnourished with multiple bruises and with either current broken bones or healing of past broken bones.
“The 11 year old girl had a broken leg, the boy had a disabled elbow. Both had broken bones that were in the healing stages, both had bruises over different areas of their bodies,” Walton said.
During interviews at the hospital the children began to allege abuse by their adoptive parents.
“They told investigators what life was like in the home. They described two items that were used to hit them when they had 'sinned,'” Walton said.
That led to a child in need of care case and the Nachtigals were placed under arrest.
Feb. 16 police executed a search warrant on the Nachtigal home and found two items allegedly used to strike the children — a broken 1 x 3 inch board in the trash and a cane described by the children.
”If they did not behave in certain ways or did not do homework, it was a sin and they were punished,” Jordan said.
Jim and Paige Nachtigal were arrested on charges of abuse of a child, aggravated child endangerment and aggravated battery. All are felony charges.
Jordan said it is believed much of the corporal punishment was given out by Jim Nachtigal, often at the behest of his wife.
“In our interviews with the children, dad did most of the hitting at the directive of mom,” Jordan said.
Jordan said the malnourishment allegedly came from the children being underfed. He described meals at the home — two pieces of bread, a banana or apple with water for breakfast to be eaten in the children's room for breakfast. That was, he alleged, followed by a lunch of a sandwich of meat and cheese.
“They had to stand at the kitchen counter to eat that and did not sit at the table,” Jordan said. “That was the same lunch every day. … The boy spoke about one time he got chips with his sandwich and he was ecstatic about that.”
Dinner for the 11 year olds he said, was usually a sandwich with no seconds while their older sister and parents ate a meal prepared separately. Allegedly no extra food or seconds were given at any meals.
According to investigators the 11 year old boy weighs 60 pounds, the girl 50 pounds. According to investigators, the boy's body mass index is less than one percent. According to the Center for Disease Control, a normal BMI for an 11 year old boy would be between 16 and 18 percent.
“When they were adopted, they were almost the same weight as they are now,” Jordan said.
Investigators said based on documentation the 11-year-olds had only gained between three and six pounds over the course of three years.
The children were pulled from public schools, Jordan said he believes that happened in 2014. They began homeschooling at that time. According to the Nachtigal's online newsleter homeschooling was to continue after the family located in the mission field until the children were "fluent in Spanish."
Jordan alleged the children were isolated without contact with the outside world. They also, Jordan said, did not receive medical care.
“The children told interviewers … that they can not remember when they saw a doctor recently,” Jordan said. “There are many things about this that are alarming. The little boy has a very serious heart condition that needed to be addressed. The way I understand it from the doctor is it is life threatening.”
Arrangements have been made for the child to see a pediatric cardiologist.
Jordan told the media Feb. 17 that there were reports made to the Department of Children and Families, however, he does not know what those reports contain. In two years as chief, he said, no reports from DCF concerning the Nachtigals have been shared with his department. He only confirmed that there had been reports made to DCF.
“In a case that is emotionally charged like this, there is a tendency to point fingers,” Jordan said “Our focus is on what we can do to keep the children safe.”