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Records: Parents admit locking children in basement with little food, burying dead daughter in the barn

Investigators discovered a young boy locked in the basement where his sister died. They believe he'd been in there for four years.

ROANE COUNTY, Tenn. — A young girl was locked for weeks in an unfinished basement with little nourishment for weeks until she died, according to court documents read Tuesday in a Roane Co. court.

The parents admitted the 11-year-old girl was buried on the property and her brother remained locked in that same basement until he was released by deputies this weekend.

Her parents, Michael Anthony Gray Sr., 63, and Shirley Gray, 60, face child abuse, child neglect, kidnapping and abuse of a corpse charges.

The two were arraigned separately on Tuesday morning with both of them appearing via video. The judge disclosed disturbing details of the investigation that Roane County investigators used in the affidavit for his arrest.

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The investigation began on Friday when a young boy was spotted riding a scooter alone on the road. A couple was concerned and called 911. The boy said he didn't know where he lived or where his parents were, but officers were able to identify him and take him to the residence on Dry Fork Valley Road in Ten Mile. The parents said they didn't know the boy was gone and Michael Gray agreed to go to DCS to be interviewed. 

During that interview, he admitted one child was buried at his house and another was locked in the basement.

Credit: WBIR
Investigators believe four children lived in this Roane County home for years in horrible conditions, including little food and being locked in a basement. An 11-year-old girl died and her parents admit burying her in the barn.

"There is a dead child."

The couple, originally from Mississippi, moved to Roane County in 2016 with four minor children, two boys and two girls. Investigators stated on Monday that they were not the couple's biological children.

Within a month of moving into the home, Michael Gray admitted that one of the boys, who was not yet 13 years old, was confined to an unfinished basement for stealing food. At some point, an 11-year-old daughter was also locked in that basement, with no running water or electricity, also for stealing food.

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Gray admitted that the children were only given light bread and water during their confinement and that the girl died in 2017. Gray said he initially put her body in a cardboard box behind a half wall in the basement until he could dig a hole for her to be buried, according to the documents. Both parents admitted to officers that she was eventually buried in the pole barn where they keep goats, chickens and a pig.

Michael Gray showed officers where the girl's body was kept in the basement and also where he buried her. An excavation team did uncover a human skull and mandible in that area, according to the affidavit read in court. The remains were discovered Saturday morning and are undergoing forensic testing to see if they can determine how the girl died and further charges are possible, according to the DAG.

Credit: WBIR
Michael Gray appears via video in a Roane Co. court.

A tiny room in the basement

According to the affidavit, Michael Gray showed officers the unfinished basement where the girl died and where her brother had been confined for years. Gray said the other brother had also been locked down there from time to time as punishment

At one point, he said the children were locked in a wire dog cage. Then he built a tiny concrete room where they could be confined. In the court documents, the deputies noted there was a small bucket in that tiny room filled with human feces and urine, and old magazine pages used in place of toilet paper.

That's where deputies found the young boy who Gray admitted had been locked there, with little or no human interaction and small amounts of food, since 2016.

The parents admitted they used confinement and the withholding of food as a form of punishment for all the children, according to the investigators.

There was a surviving daughter who knew that her brothers were locked in the basement.

Years of abuse

All three surviving children are now in DCS custody. The investigators noted that all of them appeared "stunted in growth."

From interviews and records, investigators believe it's been at least six years since any of the children have seen a doctor or dentist.

All of them are signed up with the state for homeschooling, and records show that Shirley Gray logged into the website to keep the records updated, even those for Sophie, who'd been dead for three years.

Investigators believe that the boy who had remained locked in the basement had no formal education at all.

The judge ordered both Grays to be held under a $500,000 bond.