The autistic twins who spent nights locked inside a urine-stained room in their parents’ basement have been safely placed in another home under the oversight of social workers, Montgomery County authorities said Tuesday.
The young men, 22 years old, also have undergone medical checkups, which didn’t find signs of further abuse, police said.
Their parents — John and Janice Land — have each been charged with two counts of abuse of vulnerable adults and two counts of false imprisonment. It appears that the authorities’ case against them rests on the conditions that left the two men inside a filthy, dark room with only an old comforter to sleep on. Neither man can communicate verbally. The doors to the room were bolted from the outside, and the basement also was blocked in places by plywood, according to police accounts and fire inspection reports.
“This case is unacceptable,” said Laurie Reyes, a Montgomery police officier who works with autism families. “There are other measures that can be put in place.”
She said that the conditions for the twins were the worst she had ever heard of in the county.
The Lands, who were charged last week and are free on bond, could not be reached to comment. But John Land’s father said Tuesday that he visited the family frequently and saw two parents trying to do their best.
“They were coping with a situation that is almost hell on earth to try and deal with,” said John Land III, 83. “They dealt with it the best they could in a loving, caring fashion. I’ve never heard them raise their voice or anything.”
The sons are “so close they’re like Siamese twins,” the elder Land said.
The two are fascinated by things like valves and switches, their grandfather said, which made their parents worry about leaving them unattended. They also had a tendency to run away, he said.
The case highlights the challenges of caring for autistic children and adults. But police officials Tuesday sought to put forth a broader message: that no matter how difficult raising children with autism may be, the alleged behavior of the Lands was inexcusable.
“I hope that out of this tragedy, and the tragedy that was experienced by these two young men, it gives us an opportunity to bring awareness to autism safety in general,” Reyes said.
Police and workers from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services had been to the Lands’ house in the past, Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill said. But during the days in years past, the twins had been at school. More recently, they had spent days at a care center, Hamill said. And even when the twins were home, according their parents’ statements to detectives, they were not locked up during the day.
“It does not appear that police or HHS missed anything,” Hamill said.
Thus far, police have turned up at least three times that police were called to the house, where other adult children of the Lands also lived.
“We’ve had a number of search warrants served there for drug-related investigations,” Hamill said.
Such was the case early Thursday morning, when county narcotics officers, joined by a SWAT team, searched the house as part of a marijuana investigation, Hamill said.
As they did so, they came across the locked room in the basement, went inside, found the twins and were shocked by the conditions.
“The stench of urine in the room was nearly overwhelming for the officers,” Hamill said.
The twins’ parents, who were home during the search, were taken into custody.
John Land acknowledged that he locked the twins in the room at night, according to court records. He said that one of them had caused water damage to the house in the past.
Janice Land said the twins had been sleeping in the room for six years, according to the records. The couple said they had recently gotten rid of furniture in the room because their sons had soiled it.
As the parents were being investigated, fire code inspectors from the city of Rockville examined the house.
According to the inspectors’ report, made available Tuesday, “All basement doors are pad-locked, key-cylinder locked, or blocked by plywood. . . . Room where children occupied was pad-locked on the outside in bathroom area and had sliding bolt locks on outside” that led to a different area.
The report also cited issues on the first floor. Among the conditions to be met before anyone is allowed to return: “Must remove locks on egress doors. Must remove clutter on all levels.”
The report also said, “No working smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors present.”
The twins’ grandfather said the two had struggled with potty-training and attended a special-needs school until they were 21.
Land III said the two broke a large window several years ago, which was replaced. More recently, they broke a window that was then boarded up with plywood.
“Anything [the parents] did was to keep them from harm, not for abuse,” the grandfather said.
At night, to prevent their sons from hurting themselves or disappearing, the parents would lock them in a basement room. If they needed something, the twins would bang on the door to wake their parents up, Land III said.
“Perhaps some things were not done in the wisest manner,” he said. “But I know they did their best.”
Land III said he was upset by accusations of neglect when what the parents really needed was help.
“People jump to mistreatment,” he said. “There has been no abuse, there has been no neglect, period.”
Reyes, the police officer and autism specialist, ticked off a number of measures that can be taken, including calling the county for guidance to make use of available programs, getting a behavioral therapist to help set up safe bedrooms and making sure those with autism have identification bracelets.
Reyes acknowledged the challenges but said families everywhere are taking such measures. “The rewards can be equally amazing,” she said.