Locked in a bedroom, starved, and isolated-that was the experience of one teenager who was held captive in her home for more than a year.
Just last month, Sherry Keen, one of the girl’s caretakers, was sentenced for her role in the child neglect case. Keen’s husband, Wesley, was sentenced last November for his involvement. Both pleaded guilty to their respective charges.
According to prosecutor Stephanie Ayers, shortly after the Keens became the child’s caretakers, she was held in a padlocked room, only let out for a short time each day to eat dinner. Ayers says that was the girl’s only meal of the day. Ayers says the teen was also withdrawn from school under the pretense of being homeschooled. But instead, was isolated, abused, and essentially held against her will until an anonymous call changed her fate.
Madison Brennan, a neighborhood friend, still thinks about the girl who lived down the street from her.
“She was a really, really nice girl. She would always come out and play with me. And the dogs I would bring down there. And she was really nice. She was a good friend of mine,” says Brennan.
The two girls would often play together with Madison’s dogs. But something strange happened-Madison began seeing the girl less often. When Madison went to the girl’s home to check on her, she says she was given several excuses. Sometimes she was told the girl wasn’t home and other times she was told she was busy doing homework.
“It kind of seemed off to me that she was always doing her homework. And when I did see her at their kitchen table through the door, their glass door, she wasn’t doing homework. She was at the kitchen table by herself,” says Brennan.
When the girl did re-emerge briefly, Madison noticed she had lost weight.
“She was really skinny, like skin and bone almost. Like really, really skinny,” says Brennan.
Investigators say that’s because the girl was held captive for more than a year. Locked away inside her room and abused behind closed doors.
“It’s just heartbreaking to think of the abuse and the torture that that child suffered day in and day out,” says Stephanie Ayers, deputy commonwealth attorney for Bedford County.
After receiving an anonymous call, Child Protective Services and the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office responded to the home to check on the girl. Investigators found the girl inside a bedroom-behind a padlocked door, beaten and bruised.
“She had a notebook there that said ‘I will do as I’m told or I will be punished.’ That was written there almost 3,000 times,” says Christian Edmondson, lead investigator with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office.
The child’s caretakers, Wesley and Sherry Keen, were arrested on the girl’s 14th birthday. Both pleaded guilty to child neglect and abduction charges.
“I can say in the fifteen years I’ve practiced law, 12 of which have been in prosecution, I don’t know that I’ve ever physically gotten emotional in the courtroom. And I was a little embarassed, but I did that when Mr. Keen was sentenced,” says Ayers.
And in addition to the notebook filled with sentences, investigators found something else.
“She had actually torn it up, but we were able to put it together. And she had put at the top -wish list of things she would like to have-and it was things such as Mountain Dew, trail mix,” says Edmondson.
So investigators went to work making that wish list come true.
The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office held a surprise birthday party for the girl-complete with presents, a bike, and of course, a cake to celebrate-her birthday, and also her freedom.
After being locked away, unable to celebrate holidays, the act of kindness brought a little light and color into her life.
“That day she was overwhelmed. She was overwhelmed with tears of joy,” says Captain Mike Miller of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office.
A girl neglected by her caretakers for more than a year has made an indelible impression on so many now.
“The only positive thing that I can say that’s come of all this is that this child knows she has so many people behind her, pulling for her, and want to see her succeed and do well, and she’s safe now,” says Ayers.
And Madison Brennan still thinks about the girl who lived down the street, hoping one day they’ll be reunited.
“I just want to tell her that I love her and she was a really good friend and I wish I could see her again,” says Brennan.
The teen is now in foster care.
Wesley Keen was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment and Sherry Keen was sentenced to five years for her role in the case. Both also received additional suspended sentences.