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Air Force major charged with child abuse, neglect


A Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., major and his wife are accused of physically abusing and neglecting their two adopted children, whom police say were locked out of the family’s off-base home and forced to stay in a backyard “playhouse” without electricity and plumbing for days at a time.

The June 14 arrest of Maj. Erin James Pickel, 44, and wife Jennifer Pickel, 43, comes three months after an airman at the base was accused of discarding the body of his infant along a roadside. Senior Airman Matthew Theurer has been charged in the death of his child.

In the abuse and neglect case, the Goldsboro Police Department charged Erin and Jennifer Pickel each with five counts of intentional child abuse and five counts of child neglect, which are felonies, said police Maj. Al King.

The Wayne County Department of Social Services received an anonymous tip in early June that two children, a 15-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, who were adopted about eight years ago, were being abused, King said. DSS contacted police June 5.

King said the children, who were home-schooled, had minor cuts and bruises on their bodies.

Police said they were occasionally locked out of the family’s ranch style home and forced to stay in a small backyard structure with no electricity or running water.

The alleged abuse dates back to about 2008, King said.

DSS removed the boy and girl and two other children from the home, he said.

The Pickels, accompanied by their attorneys, turned themselves in to police after learning of the arrest warrants against them, King said. Both were released from jail after posting $25,000 bonds. Their first court appearance was June 17, he said.

Geoff Hulse, an attorney for Erin Pickel, declined to comment on the case.

Erin Pickel, an instructor weapon system operator, serves as chief of device training for the 4th Training Squadron at Seymour Johnson, Broadway said.

He has been assigned to the base since 2009, according to Air Force records. His previous duty stations include Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and RAF Lakenheath, England.

He deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2006 and to Afghanistan in 2005 and 2007, according to the records.

Child abuse and neglect cases among Air Force families have risen steadily over the past five years. The Air Force Family Advocacy Program substantiated nearly 1,300 child maltreatment cases in fiscal 2012, a 6 percent rise from the year before and a 25 percent jump since 2008.

Child maltreatment deaths were slightly up from 2011 to 2012, and a spate of infant deaths this year alarmed Air Force leaders. One of those was the 15-month-old son of Seymour Johnson Senior Airman Theurer, who was charged June 20 with murder, involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, child endangerment, obstruction and making a false official statement.

Theurer was was arrested after the child’s body was found in March discarded on a roadside about 100 miles from base.

Theurer’s wife had moved out of state, leaving the baby in the sole care of the airman.

Col. Jeannie Leavitt, Seymour Johnson commander, said in a statement the base “fully supports the efforts of the Goldsboro Police Department regarding these allegations” against the Air Force major.

“Child abuse is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.

“Airmen of the 4th Fighter Wing are held to the highest standards and are expected to uphold those standards at all times, on and off duty. Our unwavering commitment and service to this great nation will continue throughout these trying times.”

2013 Jun 25