The children were so hungry they were peeling paint off the walls to eat.
And, a Dauphin County prosecutor said Thursday, two of those three children would have died of starvation within a week had they not been rescued from the bedroom where they were imprisoned.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Gettle painted that horrific picture as the couple responsible for caring for those kids, Joshua and Brandi Weyant, entered guilty pleas that will guarantee them prison stays of at least a decade each.
The Halifax Township couple entered those pleas 14 months after state police, acting on an anonymous tip about a sickly child, raided their house of horrors in the 1000 block of North River Road.
Both Weyants pleaded guilty to multiple charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, and child endangerment.
Gettle said their plea deals require county Judge Scott A. Evans to impose minimum sentences of at least 10 years in state prison. Evans has the leeway, however, to send each of the Weyants to prison for up to 20 to 40 years, the prosecutor said,
Evans is to sentence the couple in May.
Joshua Weyant, 34, also pleaded no contest to unrelated charges of indecent assault and corruption of minors. In that case, he was accused of molesting a pre-teen girl from 2013-15, Gettle said.
Neither of the Weyants said anything other than “yes,” as they stood before Evans with attorneys – Chief Deputy Public Defender Deanna Muller for Joshua and Bryan Depowell for Brandi, 39, whose voice was barely audible as she pleaded guilty.
The charges against the Weyants stem from the December 2016 visit of police and Children & Youth Services workers to their home in response to the anonymous tip.
Gettle said investigators found the children in a bare, unheated bedroom without any beds or other furniture, no toys and no sign that they were getting anything to eat. The paint was peeled from the walls for as high as the kids could reach, she said, and the children were eating it “to try to survive,” Gettle said.
She said the children, ages 6, 5 and 4, told police they were imprisoned in the room for trying to steal food. They said the Weyants weren’t feeding them.
The children were rushed to Penn State Hershey Medical Center, where experts determined two of them were within a week of dying from malnutrition, the prosecutor said. Investigators said none of the children weighed more than 28 pounds, well below healthy weight for their ages.
Although the Weyants were responsible for caring for the children, they are not their biological parents, investigators determined. Police said it appears 10 people were living in the Halifax Township house.
Investigators said they believe the Weyants conspired to starve the children because Joshua no longer wanted them.
Gettle said the children are now in foster care.