Custody of allegedly abused twins taken from adoptive parents
Chunks of hair missing on the children’s scalps. Late-night screaming matches. A sickly skinny runaway twin.
Child Protective Services reports and neighbors’ 911 calls reflect a pattern of alleged abuse by Vancouver parents accused of locking up and starving their adopted twins that dates back to at least 2004.
Child Protective Services received eight referrals between September 2004 and September 2010 of allegations of neglect or abuse by Jeffrey and Sandra Weller.
Residents surrounding the Weller home in an upscale cul-de-sac of Vancouver’s North Hearthwood neighborhood also said they called the police several times over the past six years to no avail.
“I could hear the kids screaming. I could hear the abuse,” said Kim, who’s home is behind the Weller house. She asked that her last name not be used for fear of retribution. “I’m happy for the kids that they’re out of the situation, but sad that it took so long.”
Kim said she’s called the police at least five times, including once when she heard Jeffrey Weller shout “he was going to kill his whole family.”
“She called all the time. It’s heartbreaking,” echoed Alice Glessner, who lives around the corner from the Wellers. “Those kids took enough abuse.”
Jeffrey Weller, a production specialist at Wafer Tech, and stay-at-home mom Sandra Weller were arrested Oct. 12 on suspicion of five counts of second-degree assault and two counts of unlawful imprisonment. Court documents allege they locked adopted teenaged twins in a bedroom without electricity and only fed them once a day. The twins, a boy and girl, were allegedly beaten with a wooden board if they “stole” food.
The Wellers, who are free on bail, will be arraigned in Clark County Superior Court Oct. 27.
Earlier, a Vancouver police officer asked the Wellers why the twins were so thin. “It was explained (the twins) are Filipino; therefore they are thin due to their heritage,” the court affidavit said.
As the investigation has unfolded, a clearer picture of the Weller home has emerged. The Columbian has filed public records requests for the CPS reports and police reports in this case; the requests have yet to be answered, as public agencies have some time to respond.
Still, other sources reveal an alleged pattern.
Of the eight referrals to CPS, six were “concerns (the twins) were physically abused in some way, or that they were very underweight and seemed malnourished,” said Sherry Hill, spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services.
Hill said most referrals were made by people who are mandated by law to report abuse or neglect.
In the referrals, the agency couldn’t take action, she said, because the twins would deny abuse. Also, in many of the cases, CPS workers weren’t allowed inside the home, so they were unaware of the living conditions, she said.
The case hit a turning point Oct. 5 when one of the twins passed a note to an authority figure detailing the abuse. The official reported it to CPS, which called in Vancouver police — something they hadn’t done previously because “they didn’t have enough information in earlier referrals,” Hill said.
Still, neighbors said they had tried to alert police before.
Glessner remembered one of the twins as a very skinny boy who would walk to Hearthwood Elementary School with her granddaughter six years ago. She recalled that he had large chunks of hair missing. The boy said he was told to say it was cancer treatments, she said.
Glessner’s family was so concerned about possible warning signs that they told a school counselor, who referred the report to CPS, she said. The Glessner family never heard anything more — but then the boy was quickly removed from the elementary school, she recalled. Police reported the twins have been home-schooled.
In hindsight, Glessner said she wished she would have pushed harder. “I feel like I let the boy down without knowing him. But I just didn’t know,” she said. “Those kids went through another six years of torment.”
Her neighbor, Kim, said in the four years that she’s lived in the neighborhood, she constantly heard screaming coming from the house. One night six months ago, she said she heard a distinct smacking sound.
“I could hear a slap from my house, hand to skin,” she said. “It was that hard.”
Earlier, about eight months ago, she said one of the twins, the girl, ran away from home late at night. She turned up at Kim’s neighbor’s house. Kim’s neighbor called her over to help.
“She said she was being locked up, not given food and (was) hit,” Kim said.
The neighbors called police. “Two officers responded and said her parents were very concerned,” Kim said, adding that the officers took the child back home.
Calls to police
When reached Thursday, Kim Kapp, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, said there have been three police calls to the Weller home this year and several others in previous years. However, she said according to the department’s records, only one call concerned an allegation of abuse. That was in 2007.
She said reports were forwarded to the Children’s Justice Center for review. The results of that investigation weren’t immediately known; a deputy prosecutor said he couldn’t find record of receiving the report.
Kim, the neighbor, said she has hope for the twins’ future safety now that they’re in foster care.
“I was happy and, at the same time, it was disheartening that it took so long,” she said of the investigation. “But I was happy something had been done about it.”
Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-735-4516.