California Couple Arrested For Child Cruelty

Mona Kirk and Daniel Panico, of Joshua Tree, California, were arrested recently on charges of willful cruelty to a child. Authorities say that their three children were forced to live in a large plywood box with no running water, no electricity, and conditions that could only be called disgusting.
The police stumbled across the situation while making a “wellness check”. What they found was a family of five living in a garbage dump. There was a dilapidated travel trailer, and a large plywood box which was about 20 feet long, 4 feet high, and 10 feet wide. All around the trailer and the box, authorities found piles of trash and human waste. A large number of cats were also found on the property. Authorities say that 30 or 40 cats were present.
According to the defendants, the three children built the box structure themselves. They claim that the children and their mother chose to sleep in the box, while the father chose to sleep in the trailer. The children, aged 11, 13, and 14 years, had apparently been living this way for the last four years.
The BBC article on this story can be found here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43262244
While this may appear to be a case of child abuse, it may not be that simple. Police Captain Trevis Newport said via Twitter that the children were not confined to the box. He said the entire family was simply living in a confined area without water, electricity or heat.
Kirk and Panico were released on bail, as they were not deemed to be flight risks or dangerous to the community. Further, the children were not found to be malnourished or injured in any way. In spite of this, Children and Family Services took custody of the children. Several of the couples’ neighbors have since spoken up in their defense, saying that they were simply poor people who lost their home due to an economic downturn, though they did own the land they were found living on. Neighbors also described the children as being happy and well-treated.
Mike Reynolds, one of the neighbors, says that they are not criminals, but poor people doing their best to survive. Leeana Munroe, another friend of the couple, said that the authorities were simply punishing the family for being homeless.