Cameron, N.C. — A Cameron woman is facing abuse charges after authorities said she starved, beat and routinely locked three of her children in a room and tool chest over a period of 14 months.
All five of Leslie Tiesler’s children were removed from her home on Calvary Church Road and placed in foster care shortly after the abuse was discovered in May, according to the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office.
Tiesler, 37, was arrested Oct. 16, following a lengthy investigation. She is charged with three counts of child abuse and was held in the Harnett County Detention Center under a $1 million secured bond.
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 story unfolded months ago, when the Harnett County Department of Social Services began investigating Tiesler based on a complaint from a neighbor who was concerned about the condition of the children.
Sheriff’s deputies said an investigation revealed four of the boys in the home were adopted and one boy was the biological child of Tiesler. 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 box for days with no food and only a pipe inserted through a hole for air.
Authorities said the two other children may have participated in the abuse.
Brad Thill, who answered the door at Tiesler's home and identified himself as her ex-husband, told WRAL News on Monday that the alleged abuse did not happen in Cameron, but at a home in Mocksville and at a home in Florida.
Thill said he and Tiesler split up in 2010 and that he had been deployed to Afghanistan for a defense contractor. He said he was unaware of the abuse and was shocked to find the children so malnourished when he returned home in April, calling it a "nightmare."
On Monday afternoon, a sheriff's deputy arrested Thill and charged him with three misdemeanor counts of child abuse.
"He came home after being away for two-and-a-half years, and he had discovered that his children were in this condition," said Thill's attorney, Jason Wunsch. "He had not previously been home since December, and when he was home in December, his children looked fine, healthy."
Neighbor Amanda Summers says she saw Tiesler harshly disciplining the three boys.
"It was always very militaristic stuff – stuff that I would do in basic training – that children can't or shouldn't be able to do," Summers said.
She says Tiesler and the boys moved out in early 2011 but returned this February.
"I only saw two of the boys. I actually remarked about that to my husband – they have five children and we only see two over and over again," Summers said.
Neighbor Andreana Johnson had a different take and said she believes Tiesler is a good mother.
"I’ve never encountered any problems with her, as far as her children and the way she behaves. She’s a good mom," Johnson said. "My children played with her children, and I wouldn’t have let them go anywhere that they would’ve been endangered."
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.
According to Prevent Child Abuse America, child abuse and neglect affects more than 1 million children each year and costs the nation $220 million every day. That covers costs, such as those associate with investigations, foster care and medical and mental health treatment.
The group anticipates that it will cost $80 billion in 2012. North Carolina's share of that cost is estimated to be about $2 billion.