Two girls, ages 4 and 5, were placed in the care of social workers Friday after they were discovered locked in a Waldorf storage shed where they and their mother had been living for about a week, according to the Charles County Sheriff's Office.
The girls, who were not named by authorities, appeared to be in good health and tried to hide from sheriff's deputies, who were called at 11:30 a.m. to the Budget Self Storage on Irongate Drive to retrieve the children from 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 in the storage space with the girls since Nov. 11 after being evicted from her Waldorf apartment. It was unclear why she was evicted, he said.
It was also unclear whether Dorsey had left her children alone there on other occasions. Montminy said there was no indication that anyone else knew the children were locked in the storage shed.
Dorsey was arrested about 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Dash Inn in Westlake, where she works as a clerk.
The Charles County Department of Social Services, which responded to the scene, took custody of the girls, Montminy said.
Dorsey, who has two other children -- a 12-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy -- in the care of a family member in Waldorf, was not immediately charged in the incident, which authorities said they were investigating as a case of reckless endangerment.
Terry Palmer, manager of the Budget Self Storage site, said he was walking the grounds when he heard the sounds of children playing inside storage unit number 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."
The storage place allows customers to rent sheds and use their own locks for security, Palmer said. Its gate is open during certain parts of the day but is otherwise accessible only to customers who buy a keycard that allows them to enter the grounds at any time. He said Dorsey had purchased a card.
Palmer said he routinely patrols the grounds of the storage site and had never before heard any sounds coming from the shed. After the three sheriff's deputies arrived and he cut the padlock to 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 officers called out several times to the girls to come out, but to no avail. 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 otherwise did not look disheveled.
He said 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 that although the shed is 6 by 12 feet, the girls were only able to move around in about two to three feet of space. There was no food or water in the shed with the girls when they were found, authorities said.
"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."
Montminy agreed. "It's just a very tragic situation," he said. "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."
Last fall, Charles County authorities found several homeless people living in a storage shed in Waldorf.