Mona Kirk and Daniel Panico are accused of keeping their three children – ages 14, 13 and 11 years – in a makeshift plywood shelter that resembles a box for at least four years.
The bizarre case of alleged child cruelty was uncovered in Joshua Tree, California. Kirk is 51-years-old and Panico is 73. The pair were living with the children on a ramshackle, cluttered property that was also infested with cats, according to authorities.
Authorities say the family is homeless and the children were not being held captive, however. “This time of year, it’s very cold at night,” said Cindy Bachman, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, to The Los Angeles Times. “When that wind blows, it is freezing.… These kids are living in a shelter made of wood and tarp and it’s 20 to 30 degrees at night.”
The property is located in the 7000 block of Sun Fair Road in Joshua Tree.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Property Had No Electricity or Running Water & More Than 30 Cats
On Wednesday, February 28, 2018, at approximately 11:04 a.m., “deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Morongo Basin Station, were conducting an area check in the 7000 block of Sun Fair Road in Joshua Tree,” the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Department reported in a news release.
They found a disturbing scene.
“Deputies located a travel trailer, which appeared to be abandoned, and a large rectangular box made of plywood on the property. The property had no electricity or running water,” the news release reported.
“Several large holes and mounds of trash and human feces were located throughout the property. Approximately 30-40 cats were located inside the trailer and roaming freely. While checking the property deputies contacted three victims ages 11,13 and 14. Mona Kirk and Daniel Panico were found on the property and determined to be the parents of the victims.”
2. Deputies Said the Children Were Living in What They Initially Called a ‘Large Rectangular Box’ That Was Only Four Foot High
During the investigation, reports the Sheriff’s Department, “deputies learned the three victims have lived in the large rectangular box, (approximately 20 feet long by 4 feet high by 10 ft wide) for approximately four years.”
They report that the victims “were found to have an inadequate amount of food and were living in an unsuitable and unsafe environment due to the conditions located on the property. Children and Family Service responded to the location and took custody of the three victims.”
According to The Desert Sun, “The structure where the children were living is on a mostly empty dirt road, two blocks off Highway 62, in the large span of open desert between Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.”
3. The Father Spoke of Building a ‘Dream Home’ on the Squalid Property & Other Neighbors Live Off the Grid
Mona Kirk and Daniel Panico “were arrested and booked into the Morongo Basin Jail for Penal Code Penal Code 273 A (A) Willful Cruelty To Child in lieu of 100,000 bail,” the Sheriff’s Department’s release said.
“Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to contact the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Morongo Basin Station at (760)366-4175. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous may contact We-Tip at 1-888-78-CRIME,” the Sheriff’s Department posted.
The couple, Mike Reynolds, said the family had lived on the property for about four years. “The father owned the land and the trailer and talked about building his dream home on the property,” reported The Desert Sun, quoting Reynolds as saying, “He was a regular retired guy, and an intelligent man.”
Reynolds told the newspaper that other neighbors in the area live “off the grid” and the children seemed happy.
4. Kirk Has Lived in Many Different California Cities & Authorities Later Clarified That the Family Is Homeless
Online records show Kirk living in California as far back as 1989. She comes up with ties to San Jose, Los Gatos, Sherman Oaks, and, starting in 2003, Joshua Tree. Panico also comes up with a previous California address.
“Capt. Trevis Newport of the Sheriff’s Morongo Basin Station later clarified that the children were not being held captive in a confined space,” reported The Los Angeles Times.
“They’re homeless,” Newport told the newspaper. “It’s a shelter, the shape of a box … nowhere near what it sounded like when it came out.”
5. California Has Had Other Bizarre Cases of Alleged Child Cruelty
The bizarre box case is far from the only recent California case of alleged child cruelty. David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin, a former California engineer and his homemaker wife, are accused of what a prosecutor called “human depravity” against their 13 children, for allegedly torturing their offspring in a house of horrors by chaining them to beds in “dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” starving them for years, and subjecting them to beatings and even strangulation.
The chilling accusations of abuse emerged after one of the teenagers, a 17-year-old girl, who was so emaciated she looked age 10, staged a courageous escape by climbing through a window, executing a plan she’d crafted with her siblings for two years, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in a January 18, 2018 press conference.
In contrast to the Turpins, who posted photos of their brood on social media, Kirk and Panico don’t appear to have a social media presence.
You can learn more about that case here: