Prosecutors say three young children in rural Pennsylvania are lucky to be alive after police recently rescued them from a locked room in their home where they’d allegedly been kept for three months — wasting away — with no heat and little food.
“The door to the room was locked from the outside and the paint on the wall was peeled off at the height of the kids,” Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico tells PEOPLE. “We theorize they’d been peeling it off in order to eat it.”
“This is a horrific case that almost led to the death of three children,” Marsico says.
The children — ages 4, 5 and 6 — were taken from the home of Brandi and Joshua Weyant in Halifax Township, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 16 and rushed to a nearby hospital.
Two of the siblings were days away from death, authorities say.
The Weyants are being held in jail on $1 million bail and are charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint and child endangerment.
The couple’s court-appointed attorney did not return phone calls from PEOPLE.
All three of the children were severely malnourished, underweight and, according to the court documents, their skin was covered with urine, feces, animal hair and dirt.
“They were allowed to essentially waste away in a locked room without any nourishment while, at the same time, animals in the house were well fed,” says Marsico, who adds that the couple is looking at “years in prison” if convicted of the charges against them.
Authorities first became aware of the situation at the couple’s home after a social services worker visited the residence on Dec. 15 to check in on an occupant in the house. Marsico says that when the worker spotted one of the children, they immediately sensed something was wrong and the police were contacted.
Brandi, 38, allegedly blamed the abuse on her husband, according to court documents. She told investigators that no one besides she and Joshua had seen the children since this summer, the documents allege — explaining that “she couldn’t leave the house with them ” once they “began to look as they do now.”
Brandi also allegedly told caseworkers that she didn’t believe any of the children are “biologically” related to her or her husband, even though they have their last name.
“Police are currently trying to determine who the parents are,” Marsico says.
When questioned by investigators, Joshua, 33, allegedly displayed “no emotion of any kind” after being shown photographs of the malnourished kids, according to the criminal complaint, insisting simply that he “didn’t want the children overfed.”
The couple’s next court date has yet to be scheduled. It was not immediately clear if they have entered a plea to their charges.
The children, who are now being cared for by a foster parent who is a nurse, were eventually released from the hospital, but one of them had to be rushed back to the facility in order to receive further treatment.
“They still have a way to go medically, physically and who knows what the developmental impacts will be on them,” Marsico says. “They’re young kids, but they’re old enough to know the hell they were put through.”