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Bruised and battered 9-year-old girl escapes home prison

Published October 16, 2008 12:04 am

3 children in custody; aunt, boyfriend held
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Covered with bruises from beatings with a leather belt, the nude, starving 9-year-old girl decided it was time to escape her bathroom prison. She pushed out a small window screen and climbed onto the sill. Then, she dropped 12 feet to the ground outside.

Still locked in a separate bathroom was her 6-year-old brother, curled in the fetal position and nearly dead.

Someone saw the girl in her yard on the 1300 block of East Raptor Road in Eagle Mountain about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, and called police. As Utah County sheriff's deputies arrived, the girl was clutching newspapers to cover herself.

When police found the boy, they thought he was dead.

Both children were rushed to a Salt Lake County hospital, where they remained in serious condition Wednesday.

"The medical advisers at the hospital said it was lucky he was brought in as soon as he was otherwise it could have been worse," said Utah County sheriff's Lt. Mike Brower.

No adults were inside the house. But, later Tuesday, police arrested the children's aunt, Mary Heath, 33, and her live-in boyfriend, Sekoa Aiono, 37, both of Eagle Mountain, on suspicion of second-degree felony child abuse neglect. The two were booked into Utah County jail and bond was set at $25,000.

The couple locked the children inside separate bathrooms sometime early Tuesday afternoon, arrest documents state. Heath told police the pair left to register a vehicle. Aiono then went to work. Heath stayed in Salt Lake County to eat dinner and go to a football game.

Police tracked her down five hours after they found the children, Brower said. A third sibling, a 4-year-old girl, had been left at a home in West Valley City. Police took the child into custody. She was examined, but was not as malnourished or abused.

Aiono told police the couple let the children go hungry, beat them with a leather belt and imprisoned them in the bathrooms for long periods of time, according to arrest documents. The older children also were forced to sleep in the bathrooms at night.

Police are searching for the children's mother. Heath received custody of the children about a year ago.

The children's fate will likely be decided in a hearing, said Division of Child and Family Services spokeswoman Liz Sollis. Typically, the process takes about a year. Unless the judge decides differently, the department tries to keep children with family members.

"We always try and find kin first," Sollis said.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com