Arrests in abuse case stun neighbors abell@charlotteobserver.comNovember 16, 2013 

— Down a wooded, muddy path off Austin Road in Monroe, dogs, chickens, ducks and even a peacock wandered around the yard Saturday.

Large white geese pecked at the innards of an overturned trash bin, while other animals barked from inside a darkened house. It’s a home that rocketed to national attention over the weekend because of what authorities said they found there Friday: an 11-year-old boy handcuffed by the ankle to the porch with a dead chicken hanging around his neck on twine.

Authorities arrested his foster parents – a Union County social services supervisor and an emergency room nurse. Dorian Harper and Wanda Larson, both 57, were charged with intentional child abuse inflicting serious injury, false imprisonment and animal cruelty.

Because Larson is a supervisor for the county Department of Social Services, she was also charged with willful failure to discharge her duty as a public official.

Larson was placed on “investigatory suspension” by the county on Friday, county records show. She works as a child protective services supervisor on the investigative unit for DSS, records show.

This is her second suspension. She was placed on disciplinary suspension on May 29, 2012, although records did not indicate the reason for the action or the duration of the suspension.

Larson was hired in March 2003, received two promotions and earns $54,577 a year, records show.

Harper is an emergency room nurse at Carolinas Medical Center-Union in Monroe and has been placed on administrative leave, a spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed Saturday night.

Harper and Larson’s four adopted children, who are ages 8, 9, 13 and 14, along with the 11-year-old boy, were removed from the home. They were placed in social services care outside the county because of Larson’s involvement with the Union County DSS, said Union County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ronnie Whitaker.

Both are in the Union County jail, with Harper being held under $500,000 bond and Larson under $525,000 bond. They face a first court appearance Monday. Authorities provided few additional details about the investigation Saturday.

Whitaker declined to say why the boy was handcuffed with a dead chicken or whether the other children showed signs of abuse.

Neither Harper nor Larson had significant run-ins with the law until now, a search of North Carolina public records found. Harper was arrested in 2007 on a charge of allowing livestock to run at large, but that charge was dismissed.

‘I absolutely got sick’

Neighbors said they were horrified to hear what happened to the 11-year-old boy.

“I got sick,” Margaret Morton said. “I absolutely got sick because I can’t stand to see children mistreated.”

In fact, authorities found the boy after a call Morton made to the sheriff’s office Friday. She said that a hog from Larson and Harper’s home had been eating her flowers and shrubs, and after it bit into her waterline, she’d had enough and called the sheriff.

And that’s when a deputy, looking for the hog, happened upon the boy on the porch.

Harry Wallace, who lives on Austin Road, said he was upset by the news of the arrests. “It’s even sadder because she’s with social services working to protect kids,” he said.

Neighbors said Harper, Larson and the children typically kept to themselves but the animals from the home had been a nuisance for years.

Jenny Wallace, Harry Wallace’s sister-in-law who also lives on Austin Road, only spoke with Harper when she saw him to complain about his animals eating plants in her lawn.

“He’d act like he was almost mad at you for talking to him,” she said. “We thought maybe he just wanted us to leave him alone and thought he was one of those private people.”

Wallace expressed concern for the children. Morton shared similar sentiments Saturday.

“I hope the children ... woke up in a home this morning that’s warm and has plenty of food.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294

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