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Sheriff’s deputies in Southern California this week rescued three children who were living in a plywood shed on a trash-strewn desert property without running water or electricity, the authorities said Thursday.

The deputies were patrolling a remote part of San Bernardino County near the city of Joshua Tree on Wednesday morning when they spotted a sandy property filled with mounds of garbage, boxes and toys. When they entered the site, the deputies found the children - ages 11, 13 and 14 - wandering the property near piles of human feces and trash, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.

Their parents, Mona Kirk, 51, and Daniel Panico, 73, were arrested at the property and charged with willful cruelty to a child, a felony, the authorities said.

The nearly 5-acre property did not have a traditional house and appeared to be abandoned, but the mother and children were living in a shed made of plywood, plastic, metal poles and other materials, the Sheriff’s Department said. The father slept some nights in a car on the property and the others in an abandoned trailer near the shed. Deputies found about 30 to 40 cats roaming the trailer, the authorities said.

“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,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Cindy Bachman, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said investigators had not found records of the children’s attending school. The family lived on the property for at least the past four years, Bachman said, and investigators were looking into where they resided previously.

Officials with the county’s Children and Family Services department took custody of the children, whose names and genders were not released. The parents were being held Thursday night in a county jail in lieu of $100 000 bail. It was not clear if they had hired a lawyer.

Bachman said she did not know whether the children were taken to a hospital but that deputies who responded to the property said the children did not appear to be malnourished.

The case evoked the rescue of 13 siblings in January from their home in Perris, California. The authorities in Riverside County, which is just south of San Bernardino County, said the siblings, some of whom were chained to furniture and beds, told them their parents had held them captive for years.

New York Times