The 11 children removed from a house where authorities say some of them slept in homemade cages are polite, well behaved and well dressed and appear to have been well fed, neighbors and authorities said Tuesday.
Their adoptive parents, Michael Gravelle, 56, and Sharen Gravelle, 57, denied in a custody hearing Monday that they abused or neglected the children, who range from 1 to 14 years old and have conditions that included autism and fetal alcohol syndrome.
No charges had been filed as of Tuesday afternoon, and messages left with the couple's lawyer were not immediately returned.
The Gravelles have said a psychiatrist recommended that they make the children sleep in the cages, Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler told the Norwalk Reflector. The parents said the children, including some who had mental disorders, needed to be protected from one another, according to a search warrant on file in Norwalk Municipal Court.
Neighbors said they often saw or heard the children playing, and the family yard was littered with toys -- plastic cars, tricycles, slides and an overturned skateboard near a wooden ramp. Seven bicycles were piled in a storage shed.
"Those kids were dressed better than some of the kids who live in Cleveland. They behaved like any other kids when they were outside playing," said Jim Power, who lives across the street.
At night, authorities say, eight of the children were confined in 31/2-foot-tall wooden cages stacked in bedrooms on the second floor. The cages were painted in bright primary colors, with some rigged with alarms that would send a signal to the downstairs when a cage door was opened. One cage had a dresser in front of it, Lt. Randy Sommers of the Huron County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday.
"The sheriff and I stood there for a few minutes and just kind of stared at what we were seeing," he said. "We were speechless."
The children have been placed with four foster families and are doing well, said Erich Dumbeck, director of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services.
"We're still trying to figure out what happened in that home," Dumbeck said. "We don't have any indication at this point that there was any abuse."
Sommers said a social worker investigating a complaint contacted authorities. Dumbeck would not discuss the complaint.
According to the search warrant, the cages had mats and the house smelled of urine. One boy said he slept in a cage for three years, Sommers said. A baby slept in a small bed, and two girls used mattresses.
One of the children, a boy born with HIV, was adopted as an infant in 2001 through the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, said the agency's director, James McCafferty. For caring for him, the Gravelles received a subsidy of at least $500 a month.
The private agencies that reviewed the couple's home life before the adoption gave them "glowing reports," McCafferty said.