WARREN COUNTY, Mo. — Warren County Sheriff Kevin Harrison has seen a lot during his 32 years in law enforcement, but the story of a boy’s will to live is forever etched in his mind.
It began when a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper found the 12-year-old boy walking alone along Highway T just across the St. Charles County line on May 2.
Bruises covered his face, legs and arms. When the trooper raised the child’s shirt, bruises dotted much of his torso, all in various stages of healing, according to court documents.
The boy told the trooper he had just escaped from his house along Highway OO. He had packed a bag.
And escaped only because his parents, Christopher Crets, 40, and Nicole Crets, 33, forgot to handcuff him to his bed that day, according to the documents.
“He’s very fortunate, he's walking in traffic, he’s just wanting somebody to stop and help them and a state trooper just happened to be the car coming down the highway,” Harrison said. “It just was an answered prayer for him."
“It was definitely this boy's time to be rescued. I mean, when you're hitting a little guy, or hitting anybody in the face and on the head, I mean, it's just a miracle that this boy wasn't seriously injured…His eyes were swollen, his forehead was swollen, this boy was beaten and tortured at the hands of mom and dad so I'm very happy that he slipped out and I'm glad the trooper was there and that my detectives and deputies were able to be part of rescuing him from the situation.”
Christopher Crets is the child’s biological father. Nicole Crets is his step-mother.
Both were charged with felony child abuse on May 3. Christopher Crets is also charged with kidnapping and four counts of unlawful possession of a firearm.
The couple told police they were keeping the boy restrained because he was “sneaking” food and candy, and that they were trying to prevent him from eating certain foods because he has a medical condition.
Scott Rosenblum is representing Christopher Crets, but declined to comment.
The boy told police he once weighed 115 to 120 pounds. He weighed 74 pounds when authorities took him to the hospital, and suffered from refeeding syndrome, which is a metabolic condition that can cause seizures, heart failure, fatigue and confusion due to starvation.
Harrison said he won’t forget listening as his detective described the case to him the first time.
“He's sharing the story with me, and my dad instinct kicks in, you know?” he said.
“This is a little boy and when I watch the video. I mean, his build, he's looks even younger than what he is and for me to see the marks on him and the stripes on his back and the bruises on his face. I mean, it breaks my heart because there's this child is being handcuffed in his own home, and he's being not just abused, but tortured by his parents.”
Detectives searched the home and found handcuffs attached to the boy’s bed, just like he said they were, according to the documents.
Police said they believe the abuse took place during a two to three month period. The boy told police his parents beat him with their bare hands and a belt.
Harrison said the family’s home is in a rural area, so it’s possible neighbors didn’t see anything amiss. He’s not sure what the extended family may have known, but noted that the stay-at-home orders for most of the country are forcing people to isolate from each other.
Warren County authorities also said that the Crets’ pulled the child out of school about three months ago to homeschool him, avoiding any chance for teachers or other mandated reporters from seeing his injuries and weight loss.
The couple is now at the Warren County jail. Associate Circuit Judge Richard Scheibe ordered they be held without bail. Their next hearing is scheduled for May 27.
Harrison said their son is now in protective custody, as are the rest of the children. He would not say how many other children were in the home, but none of them appeared to have any signs of abuse.
Just the boy.
“There is nothing a child could ever do to justify this and to do it in front of the kids to where I mean, everybody's aware of this,” Harrison said. “So what's the damage there of the siblings? Of what they have witnessed their parents do?”