Editor’s Note: The following story contains graphic details that some may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.
KINGSTON, Tenn. (WATE) — Two Roane County parents appeared in court for the first time Tuesday in connection with a child’s body found on their property and evidence of unsanitary conditions for their other children still living in the home.
Michael Anthony Gray, 63, and Shirley Ann Gray, 60, were charged with multiple counts of child neglect and child abuse.
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Neighbors say that KCSO deputies were at the home of Michael Gray Jr. on Saturday in Halls. Gray Jr. is the son of Michael Anthony Gray and Shirley Ann Gray who were both charged with multiple counts of child neglect and child abuse.
The investigation at the Gray home
The investigation at the Gray home on Dryfork Valley Road began Friday, May 22, after the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services was called to the residence by the Roane County Sheriff’s Office. Michael Gray consented to a search of the home and property after admitting to investigators that he had his 15-year-old son locked in the basement of the home and had buried a daughter, who died in 2017, in the backyard.
According to the search warrant issued by Roane County authorities, the couple admitted to punishing their children by locking them in a small room without running water or electricity and feeding them only bread and water. A teenage son was, in fact, locked in the basement when authorities initially arrived and was led from the basement by patrol deputies at the scene.
The home was purchased by the Grays in the summer of 2016. The parents with their four minor children had moved into the home and within a month, Michael Gray told investigators, they confined their oldest child to the basement.
At some point, a concrete room was built beneath a set of stairs to use as a punishment space. The room, measuring “2.9 by 3.8 feet in size,” contained only a bucket for defecation along with magazine pages used for wiping. Investigators found human feces and urine in the space, which had most recently been used to punish two of the children.
The house was filled with a urine smell, the warrant states, with feces throughout the house and a partially flooded basement that had human and animal feces throughout the area. There was feces on the walls, no running water and open wires as well. There was also old trash and the flooded part of the basement smelled of mold.
Both parents were interviewed at the scene and advised of the Miranda rights. They both were aware of keeping their children confined in the unfinished basement and only giving them bread and water.
The three minor children were interviewed separately.
The report notes in the interviews with the children of how their living arrangements have seriously impacted their growth mentally and physically. None of the children, including the deceased daughter, had received any medical or dental attention for at least six years prior to the investigation. They had all been signed up for homeschooling.
Charges against both Michael and Shirley Gray include aggravated kidnapping, child abuse, child neglect and abuse of a corpse. Ninth District Attorney General Russell Johnson said to expect more charges in relation to the death of the daughter.
They appeared in court for arraignment Tuesday by video with the presiding judge, Terry Stevens. Bond was set at $500,000 for each defendant.