Grim Fate Awaits Children Held in Cellar

A grim fate awaits the children imprisoned in cellar by their Austrian father.

ByABC News
April 30, 2008, 4:29 PM

May 1, 2008 — -- For the first 13 years of her life, "Genie" was confined to her bedroom, strapped to a toilet by day and bound in a sleeping bag under a metal screen in her crib at night.

Her only human contact was with her father, who beat her every time she vocalized, and barked at her like a dog to quiet her. By the time Genie was liberated in 1970, the child was nearly mute, uttering only a handful of phrases, including "stopit" and "nomore."

The girl was known for her "bunny walk," because she held her hands like paws, and her social interaction was limited to sniffing, spitting and clawing.

This American horror story, explored in the 2001 film "Mockingbird Don't Sing," bears a striking resemblance to another horrific case of abuse that played out in Austria this week.

Police learned that three children had been locked with their mother in the basement of their grandparents' home their entire lives, imprisoned by their 72-year-old grandfather. Although they spoke some German to authorities, the prisoners reportedly spoke to one another only in growls.

"It's as though they were kidnapped by aliens and woke up on another planet," Dr. Stuart Goldman, director of psychiatric education at Children's Hospital in Boston, told "The impact will be dependent on the age of children, and the younger are more likely to recover."

In addition to experiencing health problems, these children will struggle in their attachments to other people, language development and in their capacity for self-regulation, and in many other areas, Goldman said.

"A scientist can't predict because there are few valid comparisons," he said. "Sporadic reports are that feral kids have not adapted well."

While German doctors attempt to unravel the toll the abuse has taken on these children, Genie's case offers some clues. The so-called "feral girl" had the best psychiatric help and most devoted foster care, but she never overcame her wounds.

"Their forever is compromised," said Alice Honig, professor of child development at Syracuse University. "Genie was given every bit of love and lessons and experts in language development, but she never recovered."