(EDITORIAL NOTE: It is unusual for a victim of child abuse to speak in an on-camera interview while still a juvenile. In this case, "Michael" has told us clearly over several months that it is important to him to tell his story, in his words. He has discussed his decision with his mother and according to her, Michael's therapist is also aware of his decision. We delayed the interview for several weeks, and after conducting the interview we delayed airing it for several more weeks in order to give Michael time to carefully consider his decision. We have taken steps to protect Michael's identity including not using his real name, not showing his face, and altering his voice. While many of the things Michael has to say are difficult to hear, we feel it is the right thing to do to allow him to share his story.)
UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A teenager at the center of a child abuse case, when he was found chained to a porch with a dead chicken tied around his neck, is speaking out for the first time.
The boy was 11 years old in 2013 when deputies found him on the porch of his foster parents Wanda Sue Larson and Dorian Harper. At the time, Larson was a Department of Social Services supervisor for Union County and Harper was a nurse at Carolinas Medical Center - Union.
"I got really nervous and happy," the boy WBTV is calling "Michael" said when deputies stumbled across him on the porch. According to the Union County Sheriff's Office, a deputy was responding to an animal services complaint at a home along Austin Road when he saw the then 11-year-old boy outside.
"He came up to the porch and, well I don't know what he said at first, but he saw the handcuffs and he said 'Why are you handcuffed to the porch?' and I said 'because they didn't want me to run away'," Michael told WBTV during a sit-down interview conducted in May. "I knew they wouldn't believe it, which they didn't, so they asked where the parents were, and I said 'they're inside'."
Harper came to the porch with another child and released several large dogs on the deputy, according to a Union County Sheriff's report. When backup arrived, five children were removed from the home. Four of the children had been adopted by Harper and Larson, all between the ages of eight and 14.
A total of eleven dogs were also removed from the home.
Prosecutors said the children in the home were helpless and what they experienced was horrific. Deputies said that based on the general living conditions at the home, they initiated a criminal investigation. Harper and Larson were taken into custody at the scene.
All the children were victimized but Michael was targeted by Harper and suffered the most, investigators said.
Wanda Sue Larson entered a guilty plea on March 31 on two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of child abuse. She received a six to 17-month sentence for one of the felonies and five years' probation for the other. She was granted time served and was released from prison nine days after pleading guilty.
Harper accepted a guilty plea in the child abuse case March 18. He was sentenced to serve between six and ten years for child abuse and maiming. Harper entered the plea for six felonies and one misdemeanor, but the deal only gave him time in prison for three felonies.
Prosecutors accused Harper of starving the young boy, burning him with electrical wires, taking pliers to the 11-year-old's hands, cutting the boys' pinky that became infected. They say the children slept on a floor with dirty blankets, one chained to a railroad tie by the ankles.
Michael says he knew things were wrong in the home.
"We had a lot of dogs, so upstairs, there was a lot of fleas in the room," he said. "And it was dirty and sometimes there'd be, well, holes in the wall where Dorian or Wanda Sue would try to hit me and miss, and that's what some of the holes were from. And they were just hurting me and that's wrong, hurting children."
Prosecutors said in court they offered plea deals to spare the kids from testifying. Michael says he wanted the chance to talk, to tell the judge what his life was like.
"Cause I wanted – 'cause I really want her to go to jail, and I want to do what – I want to do whatever it takes to get her back in jail," he said. "Cause she deserves to be in jail for a long, long time. And I just wanted to get some of the things that happened out of my mind."
He says he would have told the judge more about Larson, saying everything was not Harper's fault.
"She'd whip me. Sometimes she'd use – like Dorian, one time he used a pair of wire cutters on my finger. And Wanda Sue also used the wire cutters to pinch my fingers," Michael claims. "And she'd whip me with a belt. And just – one time she was cooking dinner, she had a stick, like a little stick, and she hit me with the stick."
"A lot of times I would bleed. Sometimes they wouldn't clean it up. Sometimes they didn't care, they'd just leave it bleeding," Michael said. "Sometimes, Dorian, he'd stitch it up. Like, I got hole in my head, different times. And he'd either stitch it up or use doctor medical staples to heal it."
Michael says he was often bound with metal restraints.
"They had a railroad tie and it had a hole in it," Michael said. "And they had a chain – like just a chain and a lock – and they had handcuffs either on my hands or my legs."
"They had a lock on the outside of the door of the room I was in. They'd lock that," he continued. "They had the keys so, I was locked in. I couldn't get out."
In court, prosecutors said the children were not allowed to take many baths and when deputies discovered them, they were dirty.
"I couldn't because they wouldn't let me," Michael said. "And they had me locked up so the only times I would take a bath was when, um, we were going places, they make me take baths."
The teenager is still recovering from his abuse. Earlier this year, officials said Michael wouldn't sleep at night and remains fully dressed in case he needs to run away.
He is seeing a therapist, but says for a while he couldn't talk about everything that happened to him. At the time, Michael said he also couldn't tell his mother everything that happened to him.
"I didn't want her to feel bad because of what she's [Larson] doing to me and being – I don't want her to feel sad and hurt," he said. "I just love my mom and family. And I want them to be happy."
Michael has been in the care of the Department of Social Services for a long time - 9 years living with DSS supervisor Wanda Sue Larson - and DSS custody didn't end when he was found. For 18 months he lived in various foster homes as his biological mother proved she could take care of him. She's been taking him to therapy and says his therapist knows he sat down with a reporter to share his story.
Wanda Sue Larson is free on probation after being released from the Union County Jail.
"I want Wanda Sue to be in jail longer," he said.
Dorian Harper is in Caledonia State Prison in Halifax, North Carolina.
"Well, I was kind of sad because he was a good parent sometimes. And he had a lot of time, days in jail. I mean, a lot of months in jail," Michael said.
Michael has had a lot of time in DSS custody and was elated to find out a few weeks ago he didn't have to go back to his foster home.
"I'm never going back?" Michael said as he ran and hugged his mom in a home video.
Prosecutors during Dorian Harper's sentencing said Michael was malnourished and was tortured. He showed one scar that was on the inside of his arm and explained how he got it.
"And he found a needle by the chicken. And the chicken, his eyes were, like he couldn't open the eye. And he found the chicken bleeding, too. And he supposedly thought that I put the needle in the chicken's eye and just put the medicine in there. So he came in, and he had the needle, and he did that, right here where the scar is," he said while pointing to the scar on his arm, "And he did that. Then he put salt on it. Well, first he put water on it, then he put salt on it to make it start stinging a lot. And it stung a lot and it hurt. He made me bleed."
He says he doesn't need to look at the physical scars to get scared.
"I had a nightmare that Wanda Sue came and took me. I wasn't able to find my parents again," Michael said.
He says he sleeps better in his own room versus the floor and dirty blankets at Larson and Harper's home.
"Like he'd make me scrub the floors with a washcloth and the walls, sometimes the walls. Then he'd make me stay up for the rest of the night," Michael said.
Prosecutors say Harper was responsible for most of the abuse. But Michael wishes he could have told the judge about Larson.
"She abused me, too, and she knew that Dorian was abusing me too, but she didn't stop it. She just added on to it," Michael said.
He attends therapy twice a week.
"Sometimes I talk about stuff that they did to me, like now sometimes, and it makes me feel better and that's why I feel better now," Michael said.
He says what helps is being with family. Michael now lives with his mom full-time. There's still a DSS hearing about whether that arrangement will be permanent.
"Now I finally get to be back with my mom, and it was a long time that I had to wait until I could come back," Michael said.
His family says they continue to wait for justice.
WBTV tried to track down Wanda Sue Larson for comment but were unable to locate her.
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