East Tennessee child dies after months confined to basement, parents charged
Two Roane County adults are accused of multiple crimes after a three-day investigation led officers to find the skeletal remains of a child behind a home.
According to investigators, the couple's young daughter was confined to a basement for months and fed nothing but bread and water before she died. The child was then buried near a pole barn on the property, according to officials.
Michael Anthony Gray, Sr., 63, and Shirley Gray, 60, appeared in court for an arrangement earlier this week.
According to court records, the investigation started on Friday, May 22, when officials with the Roane County Sheriff's Office responded to a call stating someone dropped off a boy who said he didn't know where his parents were or where he was.
Deputies made contact with the child and were able to determine the 10-year-old boy's name. Deputies then took the child to his home and contacted the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Roane County officials said the parents, Michael Anthony and Shirley, were not aware the child had left the home. The child was taken to the DCS office in Kingston where he told investigators there was another child, around 15-years-old, in the basement, and another deceased child buried in the backyard.
Detectives responded to the home and interviewed Michael Anthony Gray who they said admitted that his daughter, around 11-years-old, died in 2017 and was buried in the backyard.
The judge said Michael Anthony Gray admitted that his 15-year-old son was in the basement. Authorities rescued the child from the basement before searching the home.
Michael Anthony Gray and Shirley Gray bought the home on the 1000 block of Drive Fort Valley Road in Roane County on June 13, 2016. The two moved into the home with their 4 children, a 15-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl, a 13-year-old girl, and a 10-year-old boy.
Within one month of moving in, officials said the eldest son was confined to the basement for stealing fruit from the pantry and fridge. Investigators determined he had been confined to the basement in 2016 with no contact with anyone outside the basement until officials removed him on May 22, 2020.
While being confined to the basement, investigators said the eldest son was given small amounts of food including bread and water.
The parents reportedly withheld food from all the children at times as a means of punishment.
During the first several weeks of 2017, officials said the youngest daughter, who eventually died, was also confined to the unfinished basement as a punishment for stealing food. She died a few months later. During the search of the home, officials said Michael Anthony Gray showed investigators where she died and where her body had been kept in a cardboard box before it was buried.
During the search of the home, authorities said Michael Anthony Gray revealed a small concrete room built under the stairs where two of the children had been kept for punishment. The room allegedly had no running water and no electricity.
Court records stated a bucket inside the small room was filled with human feces and magazine pages used for wiping.
Records stated the house was filled with a urine smell, human and animal feces throughout the home, on the walls, and a bed. The judge said a part of the basement was flooded with old trash scattered throughout, with no running water and exposed wires.
An excavation of an area of the backyard, that investigators said Michael Anthony Gray pointed out as the spot where he buried his daughter, revealed human remains. The girl was buried in an area in and around farm animals.
The children's parents admitted that the children had not received medical or dental attention for at least six years prior to the investigation. Officials said the last time the children had been seen by qualified health professionals, they were all diagnosed with failure to thrive.
All children were signed up for homeschooling, according to reports. Shirley Gray completed the paperwork stating that all children were currently meeting all their home school assessments, despite the fact that one child was dead and other children were locked in the basement.
Officials said all the children appeared to be stunted in growth and lacked the necessary education for their age.
Michael Anthony Gray was arraigned on charges of aggravated child abuse, especially aggravated child abuse, aggravated kidnapping, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated child abuse, three counts aggravated child neglect and abuse of a corpse.
Judge Terry Stephens said he was unable to accept a plea from Gray based on the nature of the charges, most of which are felonies.
An attorney asked for no bond to be issued to Michael Anthony Gray, stating the serious nature of the charges, that he has lived at more than twenty residences, is originally from out of state and has family out of state.
The attorney asked that if a bond was not denied, Michael Anthony Gray be required to wear an ankle monitor with GPS capabilities and be placed under house arrest.
Shirley Gray also faces eight charges: two counts of Especially Aggravated Kidnapping; two counts of Aggravated Child Abuse; three counts of Aggravated Child Neglect and a single charge Abuse of a Corpse.
"Obviously, the nature of the charges and the involvement of DCS suggest that minors (between the ages of 11 and 15) are involved. Because of this, and the ethical rules prohibiting the release of certain factual information to the media and the public, there will be no further comment at this time," prosecutors said in the release.
The suspects are expected to face more charges.
Neighbors told our sister station WVLT News that the family kept to themselves, and that they occasionally saw children outside playing on dirt bikes. They said they never would have suspected what was going on in the home.
Roane County District Attorney General Russell Johnson held a news conference shortly after the arraignment, saying they are awaiting an autopsy on the daughter's remains.
Johnson also said the suspects waived their right to counsel in writing and that the three children had been interviewed.
Johnson said a Grand Jury hearing had been set in three weeks and that more information would be revealed. He told media, "Hold on, there's a lot more to come."
On Thursday, officials were spotted at a home in the Halls community with a connection to the couple.
Neighbors said Wednesday evening they watched Knox County Sheriff's Office deputies investigate the home in Halls that property assessor officials said belongs to Michael Anthony Gray, Junior. who records indicate is the couple's son.
The owner hung up when WVLT called for information. The Knox County Sheriff's Office confirmed it has an active investigation but would not confirm further details.
People in the community have built a small memorial outside of the Roane County Courthouse for the child.