A former college football star and his wife have been charged with keeping the eldest of their 10 children locked alone in a basement room for nearly two years as punishment for stealing.
Recardo Wimbush Sr., 33, and Therian Cornelia Wimbush, 37, told authorities they confined the 13-year-old to the basement because he’d taken the family DVD player and then lied about it.
“The victim had been confined to the room for most of the past two years and a lock had been added to the victim’s room in January 2013,” said Cpl. Jake Smith, a spokesman for Gwinnett police. “The victim had no access to books, toys, entertainment devices, or his siblings.”
The investigation began after an anonymous phone call was made to child protective services, reporting the boy was held in a small room with a large jar to use as a makeshift toilet.
Case workers visited June 16 and found the boy in good health, but they ordered the outside lock on the door to his room removed, left all 10 children with the family, and did not notify police.
The parents admitted to a judge during a hearing June 19 that they kept the teen locked in a basement room, but they claimed they did so because he ran away often and molested the other children.
Police said they found no evidence to support the molestation claim, and investigators said none of the other children mentioned it.
The judge ordered all of the couple's children -- the youngest of which is 18 months old -- into state custody after the hearing, and a criminal investigation was launched.
A family website – “You’ve Been Wimbushed!” -- indicates the parents are devout Christians who use the Hebrew names for God – “Yah” – and other biblical figures and advocate continual prayer.
Their next-door neighbor said the couple were strict disciplinarians who did not celebrate Christmas, handed out Bibles at Halloween, and displayed religious messages on their front door.
"Once they had a notice on their door that blew in to my yard," said neighbor Pam Harris. "It said those who work on Sunday should be put to death."
Recardo Wimbush Sr. was a Georgia Tech linebacker from 1999 to 2002 and team captain during his senior year, when he was a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.
He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2003, but Wimbush was released before training camp.
The couple had three children while he was in college, and newspaper reports from that time showed he received time off from football duties to take care of his family.
“I knew I always wanted kids, ” Wimbush told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during that time. “They bring a bright spot to your heart, and they have with me.”
The boy had been confined to a room that locked from the outside and contained a bare mattress, although the parents apparently added a sheet after a visit by social workers.
He was fed during normal meal times, and the room was kept clean, but there was no light bulb in the fixture and the single window was painted white – “which let in a small amount of light during daylight hours,” the police spokesman said.
Police said all of the children were apparently home-schooled, but they don’t believe the oldest boy received any instruction during his time locked in the basement.
The couple was scheduled to turn themselves in Friday on charges of malicious and intentional cruelty to children and false imprisonment.
Watch this video report posted online by WSB-TV: