Police: Seven West York children saved from 'house of horrors'
A West York septuagenarian and his 25-year-old girlfriend have been locked up, accused by police of creating "a house of horrors" for five of their seven children, the oldest of whom is 6.
Police Chief Matt Millsaps said an ongoing investigation revealed Charles M. Benjamin beat the children with a wooden board, a belt and a curtain rod — assaults police allege left the children with scars. He also allegedly kicked some of them while wearing boots, charging documents allege.
"This is a tragedy," Millsaps told The York Dispatch. "But we prevented further tragedy from occurring, because this was literally a house of horrors for these children."
Benjamin, who turns 72 this month, also choked one of the children and held the heads of at least two of them underwater in a bathtub, documents allege.
All seven children were taken into protective custody on Feb. 6 by West York Police and the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families, the chief said.
Seven kids under 7: The alleged victims are 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 years old, documents state. The other two children, who are infant twins, are not listed as victims in charging documents, police said.
The alleged abuse happened at the family's home in the 1300 block of West Market Street, according to police.
In addition to allegedly beating the children, Benjamin also locked them, in smaller groups, in a room with no bathroom, forcing the children to relieve themselves on the floor, according to police, who said the floor was soaked in urine.
Some of the children indicated they were locked in a room during the day and weren't let out until after dark, according to Millsaps.
Charging documents state at least one of the children also was physically abusing younger siblings.
Numerous injuries — both fresh and healed — were found on the five children, including scarring, according to documents, which indicate the number of injuries is extensive and all over their bodies.
Locked up: Benjamin was arraigned on numerous felony and misdemeanor charges Friday, March 1, by District Judge Jennifer Clancy, according to court records.
He was taken to York County Prison on $250,000 bail, charged with five counts each of aggravated assault, child endangerment, simple assault and reckless endangerment.
Janay Fountain, the children's mother is locked up on $200,000 bail, charged with 10 felony counts of child endangerment for allegedly allowing her children to be abused.
Her charging documents allege she struck the children with a belt.
It is unclear whether Benjamin or Fountain have retained attorneys.
Protective custody: Millsaps said West York officers were called to the family's home Feb. 6 to assist caseworkers with Children, Youth and Families, who were removing the children from the home and placing them in protective custody.
"Upon examining the children, (caseworkers) determined that five of the children had various injuries and were taken to ... York Hospital for medical evaluations," he said, conducted by forensic nurses. "Ultimately, at least one of the children was transferred to Hershey Medical Center for continuing care, based on the severity of (his) injuries."
Police, members of the York County District Attorney's Office and Children, Youth and Families caseworkers then began jointly investigating, and the children were interviewed.
What officials were told indicates the children had limited interactions with the outside world, according to Millsaps.
"They've been isolated," he said. "(The older ones) have never attended school."
Millsaps said the children appear to have developmental delays based on that alleged isolation.
Investigation continues: The children are safe now, the chief said, and the investigation continues to determine how long the alleged abuse was happening, the extent of it and whether there are other victims.
"Everything we found leads us to believe the children were exposed to significant amounts of trauma," Millsaps said.
He confirmed that county Children, Youth and Families caseworkers were previously involved with the Benjamin family and went to the home Feb. 6 based on "an urgent concern."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.