DALLAS — A teen was so malnourished he still had his baby teeth at age 18 and was so isolated that his sisters who lived in the same home had no contact with him aside from hearing his screams, detectives testified Thursday.
The young man, Mitch Comer, stood 5 feet, 1 inch (1.77 metres) and weighed 87 pounds (40 kilograms) when he raised the suspicion of a guard at a bus station in downtown Los Angeles last month. He said he was put on a bus by his stepfather, Paul Comer, on his 18th birthday with a few hundred dollars cash and a list of homeless shelters. Mitch Comer told detectives he was subjected to years of abuse after being taken out of school in eighth grade, confined to a bathroom and bedroom and shielded from sunlight so long his skin had become translucent.
Detectives described their interviews with the teen and his family Thursday during a hearing that ended with Paul Comer and the teen’s mother, Sheila Comer, being denied bond. The teen’s two sisters, ages 11 and 13, thought he had brown hair but never saw him, said Paulding County Sheriff’s Detective Kyle Shelton.
“He screams for food and screams to go to the bathroom. That’s all (the sisters) know of their brother,” Shelton said.
Paulding County Magistrate Judge Martin Valbuena said he wouldn’t consider releasing the Comers on bond until authorities investigate why they had lived at 15 addresses in five states since the late 1990s.
Paul Comer’s lawyer, Scott Smith, said the different addresses were purely innocent, as the family moved often for work purposes.
During the hearing, Detective Kevin Morgan testified that the Comers conceded the teen had been confined to the room as punishment. Paul Comer also has told investigators Mitch Comer went to Los Angeles because he wanted to be an actor.
The detectives described Comer’s confinement, which began in a 6-by-8 bathroom locked by a deadbolt. The house was filthy and smelled bad, the detectives said, but the bathroom was spotless — Mitch Comer told them he cleaned it often to escape boredom. He was held there for a year before being moved to an adjoining bedroom, where the door was blocked by a refrigerator. When asked why he didn’t escape through a window, Shelton said, Mitch Comer replied: “I’m afraid of bugs.”
Mitch Comer also told investigators he wasn’t fed often, occasionally getting soup or cereal but little of substance. The teen was extremely pale, small and still had his baby teeth, the result of malnourishment, Morgan said.
“I thought he was a 12-year-old boy,” Morgan said.
Authorities say the Comers sometimes made Mitch Comer kneel on the floor with his forehead against a wall, his hands behind his head and his feet lifted off the ground. Mitch Comer told investigators he sometimes had to remain in that position for six to eight hours, while Paul Comer said it was only 40 minutes at a time.
Mitch Comer described being loaded into a van with a blanket over his head Sept. 8, the day after his birthday. He missed the bus leaving Atlanta for Los Angeles, so his stepfather drove to Jackson, Mississippi, so the teen could catch up with the bus there, Shelton said. The teen said he went willingly so he could be anywhere other than his parents’ house.
However, the Comers and their attorneys have disputed several of the allegations, which prosecutor Tom Cole called “one of the most vile and reprehensible acts that the state has seen in a long time.”
Paul Comer has said he fed the teen the same food the family ate, three times a day at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m. He also told investigators that he sometimes encouraged his stepson to go outside, but that the teen declined.
Rockwell, Sheila Comer’s attorney, said there was no evidence a large appliance like a refrigerator had ever blocked the door to the bedroom because there was no indentation in the carpet. She also said the window opened easily, and the screen could easily be pushed out.
While being questioned by Rockwell, the detectives said there was no evidence of any kind of monitoring device that would alert the parents if Mitch Comer opened a door or window.