An Iowa couple is accused of locking an 8-year-old boy in a small, pitch-black enclosure under their basement stairs for more than nine hours a day, denying him food and urging their dog to attack him.
A criminal complaint obtained by PEOPLE from the Hardin County Attorney’s Office alleges Alex Craig Shadlow, 30, and girlfriend Traci Lynn Tyler, 39, of Ackley, regularly locked up Shadlow’s son from July through September of 2017.
The enclosure was six feet by six feet, had concrete floors and was completely dark, the complaint alleges. Ackley Police Chief Brian Shimon told the Des Moines Register it was allegedly like being “locked in a dungeon,” while Hardin County Attorney Darrell Meyer described it as “a coffin.”
The complaint alleges the boy was forced to go to the bathroom in a tin coffee can and that he was only let out of the enclosure to attend school.
According to the complaint, there was no bedding in the enclosure, allegedly forcing the boy to sleep on the hard floor “near or in his own urine.”
The complaint alleges the couple urged their dog to attack the boy and repeatedly assaulted him with the handle of a fly swatter, which resulted in “sustained permanent scarring on his back and limbs.”
According to the complaint, the couple allegedly told the boy that “a dog had died” or was buried in the confined space — “all of which amounted to the knowing infliction of mental torture.”
The alleged abuse was discovered at the start of the 2017-2018 school year when teachers noticed that the underweight boy was losing hair in patches and would seek food.
“Teachers and school administrators reported that [he] was a quiet boy, a loner, a good student, well-behaved and always hungry,” the complaint states.
The boy told his teachers he was being locked under the basement stairs after school every day, and during an unannounced visit to the boy’s home, a Department of Human Services worker found the enclosure, the complaint alleges.
According to the DHS worker, Shadlow and Tyler admitted to locking the boy up, saying they did so “because of his bad behavior and food-stealing,” the complaint alleges.
Shadlow and Tyler are both charged with first-degree kidnapping, according to a statement from the county attorney obtained by PEOPLE.
The complaint states the defendants “did commit the crime of kidnapping in the first degree by intentional confinement of [the boy] … in which [he] was intentionally subjected to physical and mental torture.”
They are currently in the Hardin County Jail on $500,000 cash bonds, with initial appearances scheduled for Thursday, the statement says.
Online jail records do not list attorneys for either suspect, and it was not immediately clear if either had retained one.
According to the Des Moines Register, Meyer said the boy was removed from the home and has been safe for several months.
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