DENVER, March 11, 2011 -- A newly unsealed arrest warrant paints a picture of alleged abuse against two adopted Colorado boys who have been missing as far back as 2001, including starvation and confinement by being "rolled like a burrito."
The boys' adoptive parents -- Edward E.R. Bryant, 58, and Linda Bryant, 54 -- are being held on multiple charges, including continuing to collect $174,816 in government money to care for the boys, even though the two had been missing for years. Bail is set at $1 million each.
They have not been charged in connection to the disappearance of the boys, who would now be teenagers and might never be found, authorities concede.
"We've received inconsistent stories about what happened to the boys," El Paso County (Colorado) Sheriff Terry Maketa said. "Everything from, 'They went to live with an uncle' to, 'They ran away' to, 'They've been institutionalized.' Their stories have been all over the map."
Detectives consider the case an "ongoing homicide investigation" and are trying to find out exactly what happened to Austin Eugene Bryant and brother Edward Dylan Bryant. Court documents say that the last time anyone can verify Austin's being alive is 2003, when the boy was 7. He would now be 15. Edward was last seen alive when he was 9, in 2001. He would be 18 now.
Authorities have turned to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to age digitally photographs of the boys to try and estimate what they might look like today. A spokesman for the FBI's Denver Division says agents have been asked to help the investigation.
Sheriff Maketa said the case came to light after a tip provided "out of the blue" by two young men who were part of Austin and Edward's extended family. Brothers Ricky and Bryan Pennington had recently begun wondering what ever happened to Austin.
Ricky and Bryan were placed into foster care in 2003 with Tammy and Robert Falgout. Tammy Falgout is the daughter of Linda Bryant, who adopted the missing boys.
Bryan Pennington said he had "repeatedly observed Austin Bryant being physically abused" by Edward and Linda Bryant, according to an affidavit. He told detectives the Bryants would roll Austin in blankets "so he could not move and looked similar to a mummy."
Adoptive Brother Recalls Details
Austin told Bryan Pennington that the Bryants had used a taser to shock him, leaving his body covered in welts, according to the affidavit
"Mr. Pennington stated he also frequently observed Austin had black eyes and cuts on his face," the affidavit says.
Bryan Pennington said Austin told him that he was frequently locked in a trunk originally kept in Linda and Edward Bryant's closet, but eventually moved to the garage.
Bryan Pennington told investigators he frequently heard "banging noises" coming from the garage.
"Mr. Pennington stated he believes the banging was Austin in the trunk in the garage," detectives wrote in court documents.
Years later, Bryan Pennington met James Bryant, one of Linda and Edward Bryant's nine adopted children.
Bryan asked James if he had heard from or seen his adopted brother Austin. James Bryant told Bryan that he had not seen Austin and said he believed his adoptive parents Edward and Linda Bryant had caused the boy's death, according to the affidavit.
In January 2011, Bryan was having lunch with his brother Ricky when they began discussing Austin. Ricky was apparently unaware of the abuse allegations or that Austin had disappeared. He insisted that Bryan go to police to tell his story, the affidavit says.
Detectives then paid a visit to James Bryant at Fort Campbell, Ky., where he serves in the U.S. Army. He is one of Linda and Edward Bryant's nine adopted children.
James Bryant eventually told detectives that his adoptive brother Austin had been subject to "significant abuse" including being restrained by being "rolled like a burrito," starved and possibly handcuffed.
"Austin was starved and denied food two to three times a week as a means of punishment," the affidavit says. "Mr. James Bryant said that Austin often ate out of the garbage can because he was hungry."
James Bryant also told detectives that Austin was kept in a large brown trunk in the garage for "two or three days at a time." He said he last saw Austin in 2003, and says all the children in the house "were told not to talk about Austin or his brother Edward," according to the affidavit.
Little Known About Edward Bryant
Far less seems to be known about Edward Dylan Bryant. He was last seen in 2001, although authorities allege adoptive parents Linda and Edward Bryant continued to collect payments for him and Austin from the El Paso County Department of Human Services in Colorado even though the family had moved to Texas sometime after the boys disappeared.
The arrest affidavit says the Bryants continued submitting signed reports stating that the missing boys were still in their care, a requirement to receive monthly checks totaling $1,783.
Sheriff Maketa said he cannot speak for the state agency in charge of overseeing adopted children but the system clearly did not work in this case.
"I know that from a law enforcement perspective, if I get a grant for laptops, I have to account every year where those laptops are, how they're being used and show that I'm in possession of them," Maketa said. "Somewhere, there's a breakdown when you have something like this happen."
The Colorado Department of Human Services child welfare division could not be immediately reached for comment.
Other charges include felony theft, conspiracy, attempt to influence a public official, offering a false instrument for recording and forgery.
When contacted by detectives, Linda Bryant denied killing the children but admitted to falsifying records to make it appear they were still at home so she could still collect state money, the affidavit states.
"During discussions of her culpability, Ms. Linda Bryant was asked what should happen to her and she mentioned manslaughter charges and offered that she would take all charges so that Edward Bryant was not incarcerated so he could keep the children they still had," the affidavit says.
Linda Bryant told detectives that the family moved from Colorado to Texas "for a 'fresh start' after what they had done," according to the affidavit.
The Bryants at one time had nine adopted children, including Austin and Edward. Two are now grown. Five other children that still lived with their adoptive parents are in the custody of Texas welfare officials.
"On the surface, it seems the parents had a really big heart," sheriff Maketa said. "It doesn't seem to be the case."
Happy Ending Unlikely
Investigators are talking to neighbors in the Bryant family's old neighborhood near Monument, Colo. They will be conducting searches on the ground and will be looking at satellite images to check for changes to the terrain around the family home at the time the boys disappeared.
Sheriff Maketa acknowledges the investigation is difficult given the time that has passed and the memories of witnesses who were children at the time the boys went missing.
"It's challenging," he said. "We're trying to sort through what's accurate and fact and what's maybe been passed from one to the other and exaggerated.
"We don't have a crime scene to work with. We have a paper trail that involves fraud and forgery and falsification of documents."
Maketa is optimistic that his detectives will eventually unravel the mystery of what happened to Austin and Edward, although he is less hopeful they will be found alive.
"I think with each day that passes, the belief we're going to find them diminishes," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if ultimately we're going to discover there was foul play."