INVERNESS -- A Citrus County teacher is accused of abusing and caging a 12-year-old boy living in her home.
Deputies arrested 54-year-old Denise Elaine Hallowell, of Inverness, on Monday on charges of aggravated child abuse.
According to reports, detectives learned of the alleged abuse after the boy's second attempt to run away from the house.
The boy told deputies that Hallowell would lock him in his room from the outside as a form of discipline and deny him of food or use of the bathroom. The boy said she would leave a bucket in his room to urinate in, and his windows were nailed shut.
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Detectives said Hallowell would hit him across the face and neck with open hands, and would also use another child in the house to punish him by slapping, punching and kicking him in the groin. The relationship between the two children and Hallowell has not been released.
The boy told officials that he has been held for a maximum of two days without food in the room, and only allowed to come out of his room to do chores, which Hallowell made him do naked.
Deputies said the boy's room was very bare, with only an air matress, a few books and a few items of clothing hung in a closet. The other boy living in the home has a fully furnished bedroom, with computers, posters and various electronics inside. His door has a normal lock on the inside of the room.
The boy told detectives that the other boy in the home is fed different food from him as a form of discipline, such as beans instead of hamburgers.
The boy also stated that the other child and Hallowell would leave him locked in his room while they attended social events and family gatherings. He said Hallowell would call him "worthless" and other profanities.
During an interview with Hallowell, detectives said she denied making the boy do chores naked, and kicking or punching him in the groin. She did admit to spanking the boy during discipline, and said she nailed his windows shut and locked his door because she does not want him to run away again.
She recalled leaving a bucket in the boy's room in case he couldn't make it to the bathroom in time, but says the locked doors were a "mistake." She told detectives that she had removed all of the items out of the boy's room because he was "out of control" and would damage his property.Hallowell denied incorporating the other child in the home to punish the boy.
During an interview with the other child in the home, detectives said he admitted to holding the 12-year-old boy during physical discipline and that at one time the boy was flailing his arms and he held the boy in a "bear hug" from behind.
Captain Dave DeCarlo with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office said this is one of the worst cases of child abuse his team of detectives has seen in a while.
"What looked like a typical runaway case - turned into a horrible child abuse case," DeCarlo said. "We are just so thankful that this boy trusted us enough to come forward about what was going on inside his home."
Hallowell is being held without bond.
The child has been removed from the home and is being cared for.