By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO —
The 8-year-old boy was so hungry, he said, he ate from the compost bin. His parents put an alarm on his door so he couldn’t sneak out at night to eat food. His siblings said he was driven to eat a sandwich made from bird feed.
Nicollet County’s child abuse case against the boy’s adoptive parents, Russell and Mona Hauer of rural North Mankato, has some corroborating evidence to back up the stories.
A year ago, he was picked up by a sheriff’s deputy after the boy was seen walking along Highway 169.
The boy told the deputy he was hungry and walking to Kwik Trip to get a hamburger. The nearest Kwik Trip is nearly three miles away.
At one point, the boy weighed just 35 pounds.
The Hauers were charged Friday with six felonies alleging neglect and abuse.
The couple, both age 44, also has two other adopted children, 7- and 5-year-old siblings of the 8-year-old boy, and one biological child. All four children have been removed from the home.
According to the criminal complaint, Mona Hauer brought the boy to the hospital Oct. 9 because he had a red stain on his shirt. The boy sometimes threw up his food, she said, and she thought he may have regurgitated blood.
It turned out not to be blood — it was a stain from a popsicle he had found in the garage — but the boy was examined and transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester. His bones were protruding, his belly was swollen and he was later found to have brain atrophy.
He weighed 34.8 pounds and was 3-foot-5. He was in the bottom 3 percent of those measures for children his age, though the chart doesn’t go below 3 percent, said Marc Chadderdon, an investigator with the Nicollet County Sheriff’s Department.
The boy wasn’t always so thin; measurements around the time of his adoption five years ago showed him as about average.
A human services employee first saw the boy on Oct. 11 at the Rochester hospital. When the employee asked the boy if he was “ready to get out of this place,” according to the complaint, the boy looked at him and quickly shook his head.
Chadderdon said the boy has been gaining weight since he’s been in the hospital, where he remained as of Friday.
Despite the brain injury, he said the boy is “a bright, bright kid to talk to.”
Chadderdon called this case the most disturbing in 20 years of law enforcement.
Parents cite disorder
The Hauers live about two miles north of North Mankato in a home with two trampolines and a playground in a spacious backyard. Russell Hauer answered the door Monday afternoon but declined comment.
In an Oct. 23 interview with Chadderdon at their home, Mona Hauer said the boy was on an all-liquid diet to help treat his eating disorder. The boy would occasionally “ruminate” by throwing up partly digested food and swallowing it again.
Though the boy was physically healthy at the time of the adoption, he apparently had other problems. A doctor who reviewed him about five years ago said he had “very serious trauma-based symptoms that will require intensive and extended psychotherapy.”
The parents didn’t follow through with her recommendations.
The boy told doctors he ruminated because he wanted the taste of food and did not know when he would eat again.
The parents’ explanation does not hold water with Chadderdon.
He said people only ruminate when they don’t have enough to eat, or their body can’t process the food they do eat. But a medical explanation for the boy’s malnourishment has been ruled out.
The parents were simply not giving him enough food, Chadderdon said.
A sheltered family
The family practices what they call “holistic medicine,” according to the criminal complaint. They only see a medical doctor for the most serious conditions.
Their only physician is Mankato chiropractor David Otto. He said he talked with Mona Hauer about putting the boy on the liquid dietary supplement, called an “ultrameal,” according to the criminal complaint. The liquid, he hoped, would be digested before the boy had a chance to ruminate it.
The chiropractor later told Chadderdon that he did not intend for the supplement to be the boy’s only food.
He last saw the boy in December 2011.
Chadderdon said it should have been clear to both parents and Otto that their solution was not working, that the boy was malnourished. Neither had a good explanation for why the boy wasn’t taken to a physician in recent months, he said.
Chadderdon said Otto is facing no legal sanctions. When Otto asked him what he ought to do, though, Chadderdon said he suggested legal representation.
The family also home schools all of the children.
The Hauers are also licensed as a foster family in Nicollet County. Their license was active as of Nov. 1.
The Free Press was not able to determine how many other foster children the family had.
More abuse alleged
According to the criminal complaint, the parents enlisted the boy’s siblings to keep him from getting food.
His siblings blamed the boy for the family’s trouble, according to the complaint. They said he is “naughty and steals items.”
The investigator asked what other things he stole, but the siblings said it was only food.
The other children also said they knew their brother was hungry, but they were not going to feed him. One child said she would be in trouble if she gave the boy food.
“All of the kids described being responsible for ensuring (the boy) did not take food.”
The parents themselves had been sleeping outside his door for at least six months. They ultimately moved his room to the basement and put an alarm on the door.
There was physical abuse alleged, as well.
Because he wet the bed, the boy was made to sleep in a plastic container, which leaked and was replaced by a sled with a board under it.
The parents, who have been charged but not arrested, also hit the children with a long board and a broom handle, according to the complaint.
Chadderdon said the investigation isn’t over.