Clinton, N.C. — A Sampson County woman has been arrested on charges that she physically abused her 8-year-old granddaughter over a prolonged period, authorities said Thursday.
Veletta Wilkins Edwards, 55, of 167 Seven Eagles Lane in Clinton, was charged Wednesday with various offenses, including child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She was being held in the Sampson County Detention Center under a $410,000 bond.
"She says she was a minister. It's just hard to believe," neighbor Douglas Ammons said Thursday.
Edwards had two granddaughters, ages 8 and 9, living with her for more than a year, and she home-schooled them, so they had no outside contact, said Capt. Eric Pope of the Sampson County Sheriff's Office.
Pope said the house was more like a torture chamber for the 8-year-old. She was locked in a room for days at a time with no food and no bed and only a bucket for a toilet, was beaten with tools and was forced to sit in scalding water as punishment, he said.
"(She had) scars. There were burns that had not been treated (and) were infected," he said. "The grandmother was taking a tool and inflicting serious injury on her body."
When relatives visited the house for Christmas, they noticed the girl's injuries and tipped off authorities, Pope said. The county Department of Social Services immediately placed the two girls into protective custody and asked the sheriff's office to investigate.
Investigators found no evidence that the 9-year-old girl had been abused. The younger girl had to be treated at Sampson Regional Medical Center.
"Her resiliency is amazing, for her to have experienced what she did,” Pope said. “My investigator stated that she was just a joyous and wonderful child.”
Juanita Jacobs and her son Shane, who live next door to Edwards, said she led religious services in her home and called herself a prophet. Edwards' home has a sign by the front door that says "Christ Project."
"I know that she was brought into the neighborhood to help build a church," Juanita Jacobs said.
Some neighbors said they suspect Edwards is in a cult, noting that the people who attended her gatherings wore only white clothes.
"She established herself as a religious figure, always talking about Christ," Shane Jacobs said. "People can (now) see her for what she really is, and that was not a lady of God.”