Five children–Noah* (b. 2005), Elijah*, James* (b. 2009), William*, and Ella* (b. 2014)–were imprisoned and tortured by their adoptive parents, Robert and Stephanie Duncan. The children were homeschooled.
The Duncans moved into their home around 2009. They began fostering the children shortly thereafter. Three of the children were half-siblings and the other two were half-siblings. At some point the children were pulled from school to be homeschooled. Around 2014 the children’s adoptions were finalized through a private agency and the abuse began to escalate. The Duncans created a caste system among their children; James was singled out for the most extreme abuse, and the Duncans abused the other two older boys more severely than the two youngest children. The Duncans beat and strangled the children, locked them outside in bad weather, and forced them to exercise as punishment. The older children were kept in individual rooms in the basement with no bedding and alarms on the doors, and the Duncans used security cameras to watch the children and punish them if they did not follow their rules about how to sleep and eat.
James was forced to eat hot peppers, soap, and his own vomit, was deprived of access to a bathroom and then forced to clean up his urine, had bleach dumped over his head, and was fed only oatmeal, carrots, and peanut butter. When he was given less than a bottle of water per day, the Duncans punished him for “stealing” water. He was locked in his bare, unheated concrete basement room for approximately two years before he was rescued; he did not interact with his siblings after Christmas 2019, where the Duncans gave him a letter from Santa saying he was on the naughty list and would not receive any presents. At least three different neighbors called child services to report concerns between 2017 and 2019, but there was no investigation.
The abuse came to light when Stephanie Duncan took James to the emergency room in January 2021. He was hypothermic and covered in bruises; his blood pressure was abnormally low and he had “low potassium levels, an electrolyte disturbance and an excessive amount of sodium.” He nearly died several times while being treated. The Duncans were charged with aggravated assault and child endangerment, among other charges.
*These are pseudonyms.
Date: January 13, 2021
Location: North Annville Township, Pennsylvania