LEBANON, Pa. (WHTM) — A Lebanon County couple is facing multiple charges in connection to the alleged prolonged assault and abuse against their five adopted children who endured graphic punishments, restrictions, and the denial of the basic, necessary nourishment.
Stephanie Duncan and Robert Duncan are facing multiple counts of Aggravated Assault, Simple Assault, Endangering the Welfare of a Child among others in the alleged abuse against their adopted children, ranging in age from six to 15-years-old.
Authorities first became aware of the case when an 11-year-old child was rushed to the Hershey Medical Center unresponsive and suffering from significant hypothermia.
An examination of the child’s body revealed bruises on their neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, hip, and genitals. Medical staff determined the location of the child’s bruises were not consistent with accidental injury.
Hospital staff said the child’s significant hypothermia could only be attributed to prolonged exposure to extreme cold.
Hospital staff spoke with the child’s mother, Stephanie Duncan, who told staff her child had gone to bed the night before in normal fashion with a headache.
According to the release, what staff didn’t know was the child’s ‘normal’ nightly routine allegedly involved going to sleep on a bare concrete floor wearing nothing but a diaper. The child’s room lacked any contents.
Investigators were called to the Duncan household shortly after the child’s admission to the hospital.
Over the next 10 days, investigators conducted interviews with the other four children who detailed instances of abuse including punches and strangulation. Investigators were also told the defendants smacked their 6-year-old in the mouth.
Each child provided statements illustrating the disturbing experiences of physical abuse.
A press release provided to abc27 News detailed other instances of abuse from the couple. “Even minor misbehaviors, such as taking too long to consume water or complete a chore, resulted in horrific, violent abuse.”
The report states the eldest child’s diet consisted of oatmeal, peanut butter, and carrots. The child was also allegedly severely restricted to water intake, going for days at a time without drinking. The report says when the child was caught ‘stealing’ water from the sink, they were choked until falling to the ground gasping for air.
The report reveals the child’s door was locked from the outside to prevent the possibility of escape or from the other children from freeing the child.
According to the release, each of the children’s rooms also contained a camera, from which the couple monitored their behavior day and night. If the children slept in a position the couple deemed inappropriate, the punishment of running in place for hours was inflicted.
Dr. Kathryn Crowell of the HMC Child Protection Team stated the 11-year-old’s condition resulted from exposure from extreme cold, significant fluid restriction, possible ingestion of a sodium-containing liquid such as diluted bleach, and physical abuse.
Crowell noted, without the emergent medical care provided by the Hershey Medical Center, the child would be deceased.
“As parents, the Defendants had the duty to protect, care for, and unconditionally love their children. They violated every aspect of their duties and instead created a household of unspeakable fear, violence, torment, and abuse,” said Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf. “I want to commend the excellent efforts of the Hershey Medical Center, without them, this [child] would not be alive.”