A Waldorf woman was arrested at her workplace yesterday, and two of her daughters, ages 4 and 5, were placed in the care of social workers after the girls were found locked in a storage shed where the family apparently had been living for a week, the Charles County sheriff's office said.
The girls, whom authorities declined to identify, appeared to be in good health and tried to hide from sheriff's deputies, who were called at 11:30 a.m. to Budget Self Storage on Irongate Drive to get the children out of the shed, where they apparently had been playing.
Capt. Joseph C. Montminy said a preliminary investigation showed that the girls' mother, Felicia Maxine Dorsey, 33, had been living with the girls in the shed since Nov. 11 after being evicted from her Waldorf apartment. It was unclear why she was evicted, he said.
It also was unclear whether it was the only time Dorsey had left her children alone there. Montminy said there was no indication that anyone else knew that the children were locked in the storage shed.
Dorsey, who was arrested about 1:30 p.m. at the Dash Inn in Westlake, where she works as a clerk, was charged last night with child endangerment and leaving a child unattended, the sheriff's office said.
The county Department of Social Services, which responded to the scene, took custody of the girls, Montminy said. Dorsey has two other children -- a 12-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy -- in the care of a family member in Waldorf.
Terry Palmer, manager of Budget Self Storage, said he was walking the grounds when he heard children playing inside storage unit 110, a 6-by-12-foot shed that was locked from the outside with a padlock.
"I put my head up to the door, and I heard kids playing," Palmer said. "So I knocked on the door and said, 'Who's in there?,' and then they got quiet, so I said I need to call the police."
Budget Self Storage allows customers to rent sheds and use their own locks to guard their valuables, Palmer said. The facility's gate is open certain hours of the day and is otherwise accessible only to customers who buy a keycard that allows them to enter the grounds after hours. Palmer said Dorsey had purchased a card.
Palmer, who said he routinely patrols the grounds and had not heard sounds coming from the shed before, said that when the three deputies arrived and the padlock was cut off the sliding aluminum door, the girls were nowhere in sight.
"But the light was on," Palmer said. "And we found out that they were actually in the back, hiding behind some things." He said the officers called out several times to the girls to come out. Finally, after a few minutes, the girls emerged.
"They looked fine," Palmer said. "They weren't crying or in a panic, but they did look disoriented." He said the girls wore coats and did not look disheveled.
He said that the storage shed, which was filled with household items, including furniture, had a mattress propped on its side. He said the girls were hiding on the other side of the mattress in a makeshift play area in the back.
Sheriff's officials said the girls were able to move around in only about two to three feet of the shed's 6-by-12 space. Montminy said there was no food or water in the shed with the girls when they were found.
"It's sad that we live in a society where this happens," Palmer said. "I'm sure that this woman had to work and couldn't afford child care. She just made a bad decision."
It wasn't the first such case in the county. Last fall, authorities found several homeless people living in another storage shed in Waldorf.
"It's just a very tragic situation," Montminy said of Dorsey's case. "I feel bad for her. I feel bad for the kids. I'm just really glad that that fellow was walking around and heard them and called us right away. Who knows what would have happened if they had hurt themselves."
Staff writer Clarence Williams contributed to this report.