(Delmarvanow.com) -- A grand jury on Monday indicted an Accomack County woman on five counts of child abuse after social workers said they found her children in makeshift cages.
Malista Ness-Hopkins, 39, of Mears, Virginia, was charged with child abuse and neglect after social workers and investigators visited the home. There they found two toddlers were kept in makeshift cages — cribs with lids screwed onto the top from which they could not escape — according to court records and testimony during a probable cause hearing.
All five children at the home were found living in unwholesome and unsafe surroundings covered with filth, dirty diapers, lice and insect bites, according to social workers and an investigator who testified in Accomack County court. The children were removed from the home July 28, the day social workers visited.
At a preliminary hearing Sept. 8, Accomack County Social Services worker Kate Bonniwell testified she visited the woman’s home July 28 after a complaint was made to her agency.
Bonniwell said she found the 2- and 3-year-old children in separate cribs with tops that were affixed with multiple screws. Another crib containing a 1-year-old child did not have a top on it.
It took the social worker 23 minutes with an electric screwdriver to remove one of the lids, she testified.
As she was working on it, she said the 2-year-old child inside was hissing at her and making noises she described as “animal sounds.”
All three children wore filthy diapers, she testified.
In another bedroom, Bonniwell said she found the 5- and 6-year-old children on mattresses on the floor. They were filthy, with no sheet and no pillow, just a bare mattress, she testified.
The entire house was littered with debris, broken glass and rotting food, Bonniwell said in court.
Investigator Meghann Patterson of the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office also testified at the Sept. 8 hearing.
Patterson said the department obtained a search warrant and went into the house.
“Outside, there was trash and debris. Inside, the smell was overwhelming. The kitchen was littered with trash and cockroaches were all over the floor,” she said in court. “There was rotted food in containers."
Patterson testified that when she went into the toddlers' bedroom, she saw bite and claw marks on the inside of the cribs.
After her arrest, Ness-Hopkins was released on bond on condition that she seek a mental health evaluation and pursue recommended treatment.
Ness-Hopkins told officials when she was arrested that she had been a stay-at-home mother for 17 years and that she lived alone with the children.
Her boyfriend, Tommy Annis, who was the father of some of her children, died in May 2016 at age 33.