A mother has been charged with child endangerment after eight of her children were found home alone in filthy conditions on the Near South Side.
Police News Affairs Sgt. Karla Chaplin said Mary Steele, 29, was charged with eight misdemeanor counts of endangering the life and health of a child. She was released on an individual recognizance bond.
The children found at the home in the 3800 block of South Calumet Avenue ranged in age from 3 months to 11 years old.
A neighbor notified police at 1:22 a.m. Tuesday that the children were home alone, police said.
Police News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said officers found the children "living in squalor with no working plumbing and minimal food."
No adults were found and the residence was "filthy'' according to Gaines who said all the children who appeared to be in good condition to the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital where they will be checked out, according to the officer.
Steele arrived on the scene and she was taken into custody. It was not known if the woman has been arrested before or if police had been called the home previously.
Steele said she only left the children alone briefly so she could pick up some needed items at a nearby Walgreens. She was sitting outside her home on the 3800 block of South Calumet Avenue on Tuesday afternoon waiting for police officers to escort her in so she could get her and her children's belongings, including toys, clothes and their 10 pet hamsters, she said.
"I'm mad, scared, hurt and terrified," Steele said. "I'm mad at myself for leaving for 10 to 15 minutes."
Her boyfriend, Bernard Bridgeman, 20, showed up at the home later Tuesday morning and denied the children were mistreated in any way. He told CBS 2 the children were not mistreated and his girlfriend was not a bad parent.
"She's no bad mother at all," Bridgeman said of his girlfriend. "She's a great mother."
However, according to the state Department of Children and Family Services, this is not the first time Steele has been investigated on charges of child neglect, and the agency has placed all eight children in foster care.
Bridgeman said there was running water in the home from an open pipe in the basement. In order to "flush" the toilet, the children would pour water they brought up from that pipe into the toilet.
He said he and Steele were in the backyard of the home after returning from a laundromat and the children were inside watching TV early Tuesday when police arrived.
Bridgeman said that he doesn't know how the children reacted to being taken away by police, but Steele got into an argument with officers at the home. "She was trying to let them know she takes care of her kids," he said
DCFS is investigating allegations of neglect against the mother, according to spokesman Kendall Marlowe, and it's not the first time.
"We had prior indications of neglect against this mother, in April 2007, which were substantiated," Marlowe said. At that time, the family was referred for community-based services.
Since the children were removed from the home Tuesday morning, all eight have been placed in foster care, according to Marlowe.
Outside the home Tuesday morning, there were a few toys strewn about the high, unmowed grass. Among the toys outside was a Doritos bag filled with dirt, with a toy shovel next to it.
City Department of Buildings Commissioner Richard Monocchio, accompanied by a building inspector, was at the home Tuesday morning. The city has closed the two-flat townhouse and will only let occupants in to get belongings, with police escorts.
"The home was really unfit for human habitation," said Monocchio, who went inside. "We're just glad the children were removed safely."
Steele's next court appearance was scheduled for Oct. 2 in South Felony Court at 155 W. 51st St., according to police.