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Parents charged in neglect of 7-year-old who weighed 26 pounds

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- The parents of a 7-year-old who was severely malnourished and was allegedly locked in her room for long periods of time have been charged with neglect, according to court documents.

The child is in the hospital and is expected to be there for several months, reports said.

Aldo Rodrigo Aranda, 30, has been charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, two counts of neglect of a dependent, and criminal confinement.

Maria Benitez, 29, has been charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, and two counts of neglect of a dependent.

On May 13, South Bend Police responded to a home on Olive Street to conduct a welfare check.

When officers arrived, Benitez told police her husband Aldo Aranda has threatened her with a knife and won't let her leave the house. She said he threatens to stab her if she leaves the house and if she does go outside, he hits her with a belt, according to the probable cause affidavit.

She added she can't properly care for her 3 children because he controls her.

Benitez said she finally called her aunt in Elkhart and her aunt called police.

Officers also spoke with Benitez's brother and her neighbor. Her brother said he hasn't seen his sister in 8 years and hasn't spoken with her in six.

The neighbor thought Aranda lived in the home alone, police said.

When police finally went inside the home, they said it smelled of urine. There was trash throughout the home and cockroaches and other bugs were visible.

There was little food in the home - just a few eggs, vegetables and condiments.

Benitez told police there was no food because Aranda didn't bring groceries home and she wasn't allowed to leave.

Police noted there was only one bed in the home.

Police also noted the locks on the doors appeared to function properly and Aranda left the house every day for work.

Officers said it was clear the 7-year-old child was severely malnourished. Her legs and arms were abnormally thin and her stomach was distended, reports said.

Benitez told police the girl normally wears diapers, but when they are out of diapers, she locks the girl in her bedroom so she doesn't urinate or defecate throughout the house, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Benitez also said she locks the girl in her room when she is crying.

The child does not speak and uses grunting noises to communicate, report said. Benitez believes the child is autistic or 'not normal' but has failed to take the child to a doctor or health professional for help, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Aranda arrived home while police were there. He told police Benitez is free to leave whenever she wants and that she must be having a mental breakdown, reports said.

Aranda was unable to remember the last time Benitez left the house without him.

Aranda said the children were home schooled by Benitez, but she said she does not home school them.

All three children were taken to Memorial Hospital for treatment.

The 7-year-old child was diagnosed with cachexia - a metabolic disorder that causes muscles to deteriorate due to extreme weight loss. Untreated, the condition is fatal, reports said.

The child's lower teeth were black and rotting, her top teeth were yellow.

Doctors said the child weighed approximately 27 pounds, but a healthy 7 year old should weigh between 40 and 68 pounds.

She is expected to be hospitalized for severe malnutrition for several weeks to months.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Aranda after he failed to show up for his hearing on May 31. 

Benitez appeared on Thursday May 31 for her initial hearing. She is due back in court on July 22 for a status conference.

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