WASHINGTON - Lots of families make their homes on houseboats in the Chesapeake Bay. But one family caught the attention of police after neighbors became concerned for the welfare of the children on board.
The family of John and Sherri Kelly, of no fixed address, was stranded on the thick ice of the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Natural Resources Police tried to help.
But according to court documents, the family refused assistance to get to shore.
Days later, police returned to check on the family who were on a boat moored in the Magothy River. When police boarded they found what prosecutors called "atrocious" conditions.
"They were urinating in bottles, there was feces and used toilet paper. You really had to see it to believe it," says Lt. Beth Mauk with the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
Mauk says the family -- mother, father, an adult son and two minor sons -- were living in a cabin that measured roughly 9-by-10 feet. There were makeshift mattresses that Mauk called "filthy," there was no heat and no way to cook food.
One of the boys described a typical day as getting up, eating cold food from a can, then spending the day aboard the boat huddled in blankets.
"The children didn't come off the boat for weeks at a time," says Mauk.
The Kellys appeared in Anne Arundel County District Court to face charges of child abuse and neglect. Prosecutors say it's not clear when the last time the boys -- who are estimated to be in their early teens -- were in school.
Mauk explains the confusion over the childrens' ages by saying that when John Kelly was first charged, he told police they had no jurisdiction over him.
"He told us he was a 'Constitutionalist' and that he would somehow be saved by the Geneva Convention."
When the couple appeared in court to face charges of child abuse and child neglect, prosecutors asked that they be held saying they had multiple aliases and lived in six states, with no fixed address. The investigation is continuing.
Mauk said the two boys appeared underweight and when they were initially interviewed by police they wolfed down snacks from vending machines that were offered to them.
Referring to the cramped, filthy conditions on the boat where they were living, Mauk shook her head.
"To imagine two boys that we would hope would be living a healthy lifestyle to be confined to that area, not even permitted to go to shore when they were overlooking a playground -- was just horrible."
WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report.
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