Cameron, N.C. — A Cameron father defended himself Tuesday against accusations that he failed to report that his ex-wife was allegedly abusing their children for more than a year.
Brad Thill said he was working in Afghanistan for a defense contractor and had no idea Leslie Tiesler was allegedly beating and starving three of their five children at their home on Calvary Church Road.
Investigators say Tiesler, 37, routinely locked three of their boys in a room and tool chest over a period of 14 months and denied them food, leaving them emaciated. She was arrested Oct. 16, charged with three counts of child abuse and was being held in the Harnett County Detention Center under a $1 million secured bond.
Thill was arrested Monday on three counts of misdemeanor child abuse and was released on a $5,000 bond.
In an interview Tuesday with WRAL News, Thill said he came home for a visit in December and said his boys appeared healthy and in good spirits. He even took them camping, he said. When he returned again in April, he saw a change.
"Immediately, I noticed that two of the children had lost a significant amount of weight, and my initial instinct was that they (have to) eat," Thill said, adding that he loaded up on groceries and power bars to put weight on the children. "My ex-wife stated to me that one of the children was forcing himself to vomit up his food and he would not sleep for days on end.”
Thill said he did not notify the Harnett County Department of Social Services because he was "trying to find out from the kids what was going on in the house."
"I did not know any of the abuse allegations until (the boys) were taken by DSS," he said.
Tiesler has one biological son, and the couple adopted four boys in 2008. The couple divorced in March 2010, and Tiesler moved away with the children, according to Thill. They reconciled, and Thill allowed them to stay in the house on Calvary Church Road while he was deployed, he said.
Thill said he always remembered Tiesler as a good mother.
"I had never known anything to have changed from the entire time from when I had met her until I came home in April of this year and noticed something drastic going on," he said. "Honestly, I don't know what drove her to do it. I've confronted her, trying to find out what happened, and she would just not talk to me."
Three of the adopted children, ages 13 and 14, told authorities they were starved, shot with a BB gun, beaten with a wooden spoon, locked in a room and forced into a Stanly tool chest for days with no food and only a pipe inserted through a hole for air.
Harnett County Sheriff Larry Rollins says it's the worst case of child abuse he has ever seen and that it brought one of his detectives to tears.
"One of the kids, particularly, it's disturbing to look at the picture. It's just skin and bone," Rollins said.
The sheriff says Thill should have sought medical attention for the children or alerted authorities.
"He saw and observed those kids during that week (in April). He was present in that home that week, and we're saying it's incumbent on you to do something," Rollins said.
The story unfolded months ago, when the Harnett County DSS began investigating Tiesler based on a complaint from a neighbor who was concerned about the condition of the children. Authorities said the two other children may have participated in the abuse.
Search warrants say the children were locked inside the tool chest for punishment and forced to sleep in a cardboard storage box. The warrants also say the boys were barricaded in a room for long periods of time, deprived of food. Investigators say Thill had been home a week before a neighbor called social services.
Since they were removed from the home, Tiesler's children have gained weight. One child has gained 27 pounds; the second child has gained 20 pounds; and the third has gained 10 pounds, authorities said.
Thill said he is allowed limited visits with the boys, all of whom are in foster care. He said they appear to be healthy.