All 18 of the children living with Tom and Debra Schmitz, some adopted and some biological, were removed from their home after a nurse in their employ reported abuse and neglect. Many of the children had been placed with them illegally, but the Schmitzes insisted that they felt called by God to care for needy children and were loving parents and not abusive. The couple were accused of beating their children, locking them in cage-like bunk beds, holding the children’s heads underwater, forcing one child to eat his own vomit, locking the children in a dark cellar, tying children into their beds, putting the children on a diet of bread and water as punishment, lancing a boil with a rusty box cutter, and forcing the children to dig what they were told were their own graves. Debra homeschooled four of the children, citing behavioral problems. The nurse who reported the abuse said Debra told her she was going to begin homeschooling one of the older children because she was concerned that the girl would talk to a school official about her mistreatment. The couple had been accused of abuse in Wisconsin before moving to Tennessee, but social workers had found the accusations unsubstantiated at that time. The couple’s older biological daughter, who was no longer in the home when their children were removed, said that her mother had once been a “normal mom” but that she had changed. The couple ultimately plead guilty to the accusations.
Date: June 2004
Location: Trenton, Tennessee