A couple was arrested on child abuse charges after an investigation was conducted by the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
- Melissa Peters, Kris Peters face numerous charges
- Child was found to have several injuries
- Case is still under investigation
The office began a child abuse investigation on Nov. 16 after the victim ran away from home and was found one mile away, hiding in a wooded area.
Michael Hickin, a nearby neighbor, said he heard screams in the woods near his home in Dundee, Florida.
He said he was heartbroken at what he found.
"She had a stab wound on her shoulder, her shoulder was broke. She had scratch marks on her back, she had wounds on her feet, her feet were swollen, it was terrifying," he said. "She was down here laying in these weeds all tangled up, like she couldn't make it any farther."
Hickin said the teenage girl told him she ran away. "She said that she was just scared for her life. She didn't want to go back," Hickin's said.
Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd, said the 17-year-old was abused and neglected at the hands of Melissa and Kris Peters.
They have been charged with aggravated child abuse, negligent child abuse of great bodily harm, and failure to report abuse/neglect.
According to the arrest report, the victim was found with multiple injuries, including several open sores on the top of both feet. A stab wound on the top of her right shoulder and bruising to her right eye were also found. Investigators said she also appeared to be in poor physical condition and had scratches and marks on her back, stomach, legs, arms, both hands, and a bruised swollen left eye.
The victim was transported to the Winter Haven Hospital and the medical examiner confirmed that the sores on the victim's feet were several inches in diameter, at least two months old, and were infected.
The doctor also said the victim is suffering from severe malnutrition and is showing hair loss which is associated with malnutrition. According to the report, the victim weighs only 86 pounds and is approximately 20 pounds under her ideal weight.
"They didn't feed her, they locked the food in the cabinets and occasionally they would let her have a pop-tart to eat. So they starved her and they beat her," said Sheriff Judd.
The doctor also discovered that the victim has a fractured left shoulder.
During the investigation, the victim said she has been hit and abused for several months. She told investigators that she was hit with a metal pipe, causing the injuries to her feet. She said she was stabbed with a folding/pocket knife. The victim also disclosed that she has been kicked with combat boots with silver studs on the side -- and that she has been struck with a television cable wire on her arms, legs, back and stomach.
The investigation also revealed that the fracture to her shoulder was caused by being thrown to the ground, trapping her arm behind her back and being sat on.
According to the report, the victim said that food was kept from her and that she had to steal food when they weren't looking. She also said she was not allowed to use the bathroom and had to urinate on herself or on the floor.
The victim also disclosed that she has not bathed since March 2016 and has not received any medical attention for her injuries.
During the investigation, both Melissa and Kris stated that the injuries to the victim were self-inflicted or accidentally caused by the victim. They also told investigators that the victim has several mental health issues and hits herself. A news release from the sheriff's office stated:
Investigators have concluded that Melissa and Kris Peters committed the criminal act of aggravated child abuse by knowingly or willfully abusing a child and in doing so causes great bodily harm, based upon the injuries to the victim which are consistent with the victim's statement. They committed the criminal act of child neglect by failing to provide the care and supervision and services necessary to maintain the child's physical and mental health that a prudent person would consider essential for the wellbeing of the child. They committed the criminal act of contributing to delinquency of a minor by committing an act which causes, tends to cause, or contributes to a child becoming a delinquent or dependent child in need of services. They committed the criminal act of failing to report child abuse by failing to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect.
Sheriff Judd and Hickin are heartbroken at what this child endured.
"She would not have been alive much longer had she not fled and run for her life," Sheriff Judd said.