A rural West Longview couple was arrested Thursday and accused of abusing and starving their five adopted children so badly that at times the children ate dog food and dandelion leaves, according to the Cowlitz County sheriff's office.
Jeffrey Allen Trebilcock and Rebecca Lynn Trebilcock, both 44, were booked into the Cowlitz County Jail Thursday night. Both were booked on suspicion of one count of first-degree criminal mistreatment, four counts of second-degree criminal mistreatment and one count of third-degree assault. Bail for the Bunker Hill-area couple will be set Friday in Cowlitz County Superior Court.
All of the couple's five adopted children, ages 8 to 13, were malnourished, with the 13-year-old boy in the worst shape, said Charlie Rosenzweig, chief criminal deputy for the sheriff's office. The boy weighed only 49 pounds and was 4-foot, 4-inches tall when he was taken into protective custody in early March, Rosenzweig said. He's since grown one inch and gained 25 pounds. National height and weight charts put the average weight for a 13-year-old at 100 pounds.
The four girls, who eat a vegetarian diet and have continued to do so while in protective custody, have also all gained between 10 to 18 pounds. They also were taken into custody in March, a week after the boy, and all were classified as being "in neglect" by doctors.
"There's some real sadness in this case," Rosenzweig said. "I've been doing this 32 years, and I don't know of any case where this number of children have been this malnourished."
Asked about an apparent motive for the alleged starvation, Rosenzweig said he couldn't comment at this point, adding "that will likely come out at trial."
The couple also have four biological children, three who are young enough to still live at home. The biological children, and the couple themselves, appeared well fed, he said.
The biological children were never taken into state custody, Rosenzweig said. He declined to say where they are now that their parents have been arrested, but said it was not in protective custody. He did not know their exact ages but said they were similar in age to the adopted children.
According to the investigation, the abuse has been going on for "quite some time" and included an alarm in the kitchen that would go off to make sure the adopted kids could not access the family's food, Rosenzweig said.
The adopted children were punished when they "stole" food and at times resorted to eating dog food, goat food, dandelion leaves and toothpaste, according to Rosenzweig. The punishment for "stealing" food was being hit with a wooden board, and all five children reported being spanked by both Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcock, Rosenzweig said.
The 13-year-old boy told investigators that he was spanked so hard once that he could feel blood running down his legs from his buttocks, according to Rosenzweig.
The children also were put outside, doused with water and made to stand on the porch soaked as punishment, he said.
The Trebilcocks' next-door neighbor said she's never spoken with the parents during the seven years she's shared a fence line with them. One of the Trebilcock's biological sons used to sneak over the fence and play video games with her son, said the neighbor, who asked not to be named.
She said the boy, who was 17 at the time, indicated that he was being forced to sleep in a barn as punishment for playing the video games because it was against the family's beliefs.
Unsure whether to believe the boy, the neighbor said she never reported it. As months went by and winter approached, she feared the boy was still spending nights in the barn, so she began hiding ready-to-eat meals and blankets in the grass near the fence. She said the children quickly learned where the items would be placed, and they would take them.
Sheriff's deputies were contacted by state Child Protective Services in early March after Rebecca Trebilcock took the 13-year-old boy for medical treatment locally and he was transferred to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.
He had several broken ribs, severe malnutrition, hypothermia, a slow heart rate, and cachexia (wasting), Rosenzweig said. The boy was falling down, couldn't manipulate his hands and complained of chest pains, he said.
The boy was taken into custody immediately, and the adopted girls were taken into custody about week later as the investigation uncovered more information, Rosenzweig said.
The family had previously sought treatment for the children in Longview in 2008. At that time pediatrician Blaine Tolby warned the parents that the boy's condition was "perhaps life-threatening" and warranted a complete medical work up, Rosenzweig said. The family did not follow up with Tolby, whom Rosenzweig said "is a strong advocate for children ... and went above and beyond to try and make sure (the boy) was getting medical attention."
Asked if there were any previous complaints about child abuse or neglect, Rosenzweig said he had to refer those questions to state Child Protective Services officials.
The Trebilcocks' sprawling property lies at the end of a narrow gravel road that shoots off Bunker Hill Road west of Stella. A yellow manufactured home - where neighbors say the family lived - sits across from a large blue barn at the west end of the land. An older home sits on the property but was unoccupied, neighbors said. About a half-dozen cars, most of them rusted and broken down, are parked in a concrete carport next to a shop building. Neighbors say most people in the area generally keep to themselves, but the Trebilcocks were especially isolated. Sheriff's investigators said they home-schooled their children.
The family occasionally loaded all the kids into a white van to go to church, neighbors said.
Two neighbors said they believed Jeffrey Trebilcock worked for the Longview School District and a Facebook page in his name lists a job in the district's warehouse/delivery department.
It's unclear how long each of the children have been with the family. At least two of the girls are siblings, but Rosenzweig said he did not believe any of them were related to the Trebilcock family before their adoptions.
A woman who answered the phone at Jeffrey Trebilcock's brother's home Thursday night said they did not have any comment. Rebecca "Becky" Trebilcock was recognized by local 4-H officials in 2009 for her 10 years of service as a volunteer, according to Daily News archives.