CHICAGO -- Lydia Price's neighbors said Monday they thought something was amiss inside her small brick bungalow on South Lombard Street in Berwyn, Ill.
Price's children were rarely seen, and when they did come to the backyard, it was often at odd hours, the neighbors said.
On Thursday, one of those children was found unresponsive in the yard wearing only a T-shirt and later was pronounced dead from natural causes related to bronchopneumonia.
Authorities said the mentally disabled boy and his four siblings, who ranged in age from 12 to 18, never went to school and were forced to live in filth among more than 200 animals -- many of them diseased. The home, officials said, was covered with feces and infested with spiders.
Price, 49, was charged Monday with criminal neglect of a disabled child, a felony, as well as misdemeanors alleging child endangerment, animal hoarding and cruel treatment. Cook County Judge Pamela Leeming set a $100,000 bail.
"Their feet (were) caked with feces and dirt," Assistant Cook State's Attorney Joseph Hodal said. "Most of the plumbing, including the toilets were broken, as were the washer and dryer, the oven and two of the refrigerators."
Hodal said the children slept on the floor because the bedrooms were used to house 109 cats, three dogs, 39 cockatiels, two kinkajous, a large raccoon and other exotic animals. Many of the animals were so diseased and malnourished, they had to be euthanized, including all the cats, police said.
Meanwhile, the body of Matthew Degner, 14, remained unclaimed Monday at the Cook County medical examiner's office. Three other children, all girls, were in state protective custody. One of the girls has autism. An 18-year-old boy remained hospitalized.
Officials said it was unclear whether the animals or living conditions were responsible for the children's illnesses.
Horacio Hernandez said he and his neighbors contacted police because they were concerned about what was happening inside the home.
"People seem to think this neighborhood, and Berwyn, knew what was going on but didn't say anything," Hernandez said. "That's just not true."
Antonio Andrade said he contacted police several times, even as recently as last month. He said his concerns were dismissed as a neighborly dispute.
"It's a shame that boy had to die," he said. "Enough people had complained for them to look into it."
Berwyn Police Chief James Ritz said Monday that his department had never received complaints about the family.
Authorities painted a horrific picture of what police discovered inside the home last week. All of the children were "shoeless and dirty," covered in scratches and animal bites. They never received regular medical treatment.
The children's elderly grandmother also lived in the bungalow. Price was divorced from the children's father, Robert Degner, 59, who is serving a 22-year prison term for a home invasion in summer 2007, court records show.
The sister-in-law of the children's father said she called a child welfare hot line she thought was run by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in summer 2007 after Robert Degner's arrest, but she said her complaint fell on deaf ears.
Susan Degner of Plainfield described a dysfunctional family with which family members had not had any contact for several years.
Kendall Marlowe, an Illinois Department of Children and Family spokesman, said the agency has no record of a call made by Degner in 2007, and that officials would only be able to track it if an official report was taken. Of the 250,000 annual hot line calls, typically about one in four results in a report, he said.
"There had to be specific and actionable information of child abuse or neglect in order for us to take a report and initiate an investigation," Marlowe said.
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