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Investigation underway at home owned by son of couple charged in Roane County child abuse case


HAYES HICKMANTRAVIS DORMAN   | Knoxville News Sentinel

Knox County Sheriff's Office investigators returned to a home owned by an adult son of a couple who face a slew of child abuse charges after the skeletal remains of a young girl were found in their backyard in a neighboring county.

Authorities were conducting an investigation Thursday at a home on Cedarbreeze Road in Halls that is owned, according to property records, by Michael Anthony Gray Jr.

Michael Anthony Gray Sr., 63, and his wife, Shirley Ann Gray, 60, are charged in a horrific child abuse case involving at least four young children at their home in Ten Mile, a small community in Roane County that sits 55 miles southwest of Knoxville.

The couple face charges including aggravated child abuse, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated child neglect and abuse of a corpse. The four victims, now aged 11 to 15, are not the Grays' biological children, but the couple had legal custody of them, according to 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson.

At the home in Halls on Thursday, investigators could be seen removing bags of evidence, electronic devices and paperwork from the house. Three deputies stood watch at the front door as officials worked in the back yard. The Roane County Sheriff's Office also was on the scene.

Knox County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kimberly Glenn confirmed investigators first went to the house on Saturday, and that the investigation continued Thursday. She said she could not provide further details.

"Ethical rules prohibit the DA's Office from commenting on pending investigations," said Knox County Assistant District Attorney General Sean McDermott.

Authorities have not announced additional charges in the case. Investigators left the Halls home around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Then Michael Gray Jr., who had been coming and going from the house throughout the day, packed up a vehicle and drove away.

Warrants: Children locked in basement, fed bread and water

The investigation into Shirley and Michael Gray Sr. began over the weekend when passers-by told authorities they found a child alone near the couple's home on Dry Fork Valley Road in Ten Mile.

Michael Gray Sr. later admitted to Roane County Sheriff's Office investigators and state Department of Children's Services officials that he buried an approximately 11-year-old girl in a pole barn in the back yard of the home after she died in 2017.

The girl was locked in the basement early that year as punishment for “stealing” food, according to arrest warrants. She was given only bread and water, and she died within a few months. The Grays kept her body in a cardboard box until a grave could be dug.

Authorities found human remains under the barn early Saturday. The remains were taken to the Knox County Regional Forensic Center for an autopsy.

Deputies also found the oldest surviving child, a 15-year-old boy, in the unfinished basement of the home, where he apparently had been confined for four years, according to arrest warrants. The basement was partially flooded, lacked electricity and running water, and had no bathroom. It was filled with garbage, human and animal feces, and mold.

The Grays, believed to be from the area of Meridian, Mississippi, locked the boy in the basement within a month of moving into the Ten Mile home in June 2016. He was being punished for taking food from the pantry and refrigerator, the warrants state.

"(The child) was confined to the unfinished basement since this date and had no contact with anyone outside the basement, only given small amounts of food, being white bread and some water," the warrants read.

At least one other child periodically was kept inside a wire dog cage in the basement until the Grays constructed a small, concrete room — measuring approximately 3 feet by 4 feet — under the stairs for confinement.

None of the children, who were supposedly home-schooled, had received medical attention for at least the past six years. The kids appeared to be "stunted in growth," according to the warrants.

"(Two of the children) appear to have no formal education," according to the warrants, "and were, in fact, amazed by what a refrigerator does when they observed one in their foster home."

The surviving children were taken into state custody.

Shirley and Michael Gray Sr. each remained jailed Thursday on a $500,000 bond. A preliminary hearing in the case tentatively has been set for June 9.

The investigation is ongoing, and Johnson said additional charges are expected once the autopsy on the human remains is complete and a cause of death is determined.

2020 May 28