Additional details emerged during a Virginia woman’s preliminary hearing for child abuse and child endangerment on Friday, after a social worker reportedly found young children living in squalor.
Malista Ness-Hopkins, 38, stood in court on Friday and listened as social services worker, Kate Bonniwell, described what she saw when she entered Ness-Hopkins’ home on July 28, following up on a welfare call.
After taking at least 20 minutes to remove the top from a cage in the home, Bonniwell was greeted by a hissing 1-year-old toddler trapped inside, who simply “laid there,” not moving or knowing what to do when she pulled the cage lid off. Two other children, ages two and three, were in an open crib, with their hair infested with lice. Both toddlers wore soiled, dirty diapers.
Bonniwell found two additional children, ages five and six, inside a bedroom on a ripped, filthy mattress. The social worker said the entire house reeked of urine and the home’s only toilet was broken, with black, dirty water inside. The children had nowhere to take a bath, as the bathtub was loaded with dirty dishes with old food caked on them.
Authorities arrested Ness-Hopkins and five children were taken into state custody. She’s charged with child abuse and child neglect.
The suspect’s attorney, Tucker Watson, told Judge Croxton Gordon on Friday that his client became overwhelmed after the death of her boyfriend, Tommy Annis, in 2016. The lawyer said there was no evidence that anything thing in the home directly harmed any of the kids.
The judge disagreed.
“This did not happen overnight,” Gordon said. “She said she only screwed them in when she couldn’t mind them. But she was there.'”
Although the suspect was released on bail, she’s currently undergoing a mental competency evaluation.
Social workers said they found two children, ages two and three, trapped in two lice-infested cribs with lids screwed onto them to create makeshift cages, according to the Miami Herald.
The social workers reportedly made the discovery during a visit to the home of Malista Ness-Hopkins, 38, in Mears, Virginia. They said it took 23 minutes to remove one of the tops using an electric screwdriver.
One of the social workers said one of the children hissed and made “animal sounds” as the workers scrambled to free them. The children’s mother said she confined the kids because they once ran off and played with a container of Drano.
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Two of the older children were lying on filthy mattresses and all of the children were dirty and had flea bites across their bodies, police said.
The condition of the home was described as “deplorable” by WMDT. The station reports a scene of broken glass, rotten food, dirty diapers and said the children had lice and insect bites. There were claw and bite marks inside the cribs, according to police.
“The children didn’t act like normal children,” said Kate Bonniwell, a social worker.
Ness-Hopkins now faces charges of child abuse and neglect, the Miami Herald reports. She reportedly told police she had been a stay-at-home mother for 17 years as of the time of her arrest.
She was released on a $10,000 bail, according WBOC.
A judge has ordered the mother undergo a mental health evaluation followed by treatment, the station adds.
Check back with CrimeOnline as additional information becomes available.
[Feature Photo: Accomack County Sheriff’s Office]