A Wise County judge has ruled four children found in deplorable conditions inside a shed in Newark will remain in the custody of Child Protective Services, for now.
Andrew Fabila and Paige Harkings appeared before a judge for a custody hearing in Decatur Wednesday morning. Fabila is father of the youngest child. Harkings is mother to all four children, ages 1, 3, 4 and 5.
On Feb. 12, deputies responded to a domestic dispute at their home, a shed-turned-residence in rural Newark. When authorities entered the home, they found four children covered in feces and living in filth. Two of the children were in a dog cage.
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Both defendants face four counts of child endangerment. Harkings is also charged with assault. She remains in the Wise County Jail. Fabila is free on bond.
In court, Child Protective Services case workers told the judge three of the children are non-verbal. They said the oldest child is autistic. The children are currently in foster care.
Andrew Harris, the father of the three oldest children, attended the hearing Wednesday and spoke with NBC 5 afterward.
Harris, who told the judge he is on probation for drug charges, said he has not seen his children since late October.
He was in a relationship with Harkings for “four or five years" and that he wants custody of his children.
“It was painful. It was painful,” said Harris, who was notified of the incident by CPS. “Nobody deserves to be locked in a case like that, no less a child.”
Harris said he had no idea his children were living in such conditions and had not been to the home in Newark. He described the couple’s previous home as “a wreck.”
“Now that I think of it, the signs were there,” he said. “It’s just messed up. And honestly it’s hard to talk about it and not tear up. It’s really sad.”
A judge denied Fabila’s request to have a public defender appointed to his case. He left court without comment. Fabila and Harkings are due back in court on March 27.