Autistic boys remain in foster care

Permanent custody of siblings who were allegedly kept in a cage-like room will be decided later

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Two autistic boys who were allegedly kept locked in a cage-like room will continue to stay in foster care, a Clark County court commissioner ruled Tuesday.

Clark County Superior Court Commissioner Carin Schienberg will set a trial date on June 7 to determine permanent custody of the brothers.

The commissioner was deciding whether to move the two boys, ages 6 and 7, out of temporary state care.

The boys’ biological mother, Jona Bronson, lives in Tillamook, Ore., and is seeking permanent custody. She has been allowed visitation at a Department of Social and Health Services office; a no-contact order is in place for their father, John Eckhart, in connection to his criminal case.

Assistant Attorney General Dana Gigler told the commissioner that there has been “no substantial change” warranting a shift in care. Currently, the boys are staying in foster homes in Clark County; two other boys belonging to Eckhart and his live-in girlfriend, Alayna Higdon, are staying with family members.

The boys are now enrolled in schools in Clark County, a DSHS spokeswoman said.

Eckhart and Higdon were arrested April 12 after Vancouver police found the boys in a dark, mostly empty bedroom with a door and window covered with bars similar to those commonly used in closets. The boys were still in diapers, not enrolled in school and couldn’t speak, police said.

An apartment maintenance worker at the complex on Northeast 66th Avenue, Springfield Meadows, became aware of the situation during a routine premises check and notified police.

Eckhart and Higdon, who are both free on bail, are charged with unlawful imprisonment, a class C felony.

Their criminal trial is set for Sept. 26.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516; Twitter: Col_Courts; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.