When social services workers finally removed a 3-year-old girl from her home of squalor and sexual abuse, she was wearing just a diaper, covered in dirt, her hair a matted mess.
Nearly 4 at the time, she could speak only two words. One was the name of her 8-year-old sister, to whom she clung almost constantly. The only other word she had learned to use was “no.”
“She was a feral child; that’s the only way I could describe her,” Peggy Sigler, a caseworker for the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services, testified Tuesday.
Sigler’s description of the girls’ home life — and the profound impact it had on their early childhood — came during hearings in which two family members were sentenced to a combined 108 years in prison for repeatedly molesting the two girls.
As disturbing as the sex crimes were, the case also pointed to lapses at a social services department that had been asked to investigate conditions in a mobile home park where the girls lived in the remote Arnold Valley section of Rockbridge County.
A special grand jury investigation of the department concluded last month that the agency’s Child Protective Services unit took action only after repeated pressure from the county sheriff’s office, which became concerned about the home after responding to a neighbor’s call.
But with the grand jury unable to bring charges against any social services employees, attention turned Tuesday to Robert Eugene Clark and his half-sister, Samantha Simmons.
Rockbridge County Circuit Judge Anita Filson sentenced Clark, 39, to 65 years in prison on nine counts that included rape, aggravated sexual battery and taking indecent liberties.
Simmons, 30, was sentenced during a separate proceeding to 43 years on 11 counts that included aggravated sexual battery, sodomy and endangerment of a child. Authorities say a third family member, who has since died, also took part in the sexual assaults.
“There’s no other way to describe this than as a family orgy,” Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Jared Moon said.
Describing the case as the most disturbing sex crime he has encountered as a prosecutor, Moon called for sentences that would keep Clark and Simmons behind bars for the rest of their lives.
In an effort to protect the victims’ identities, The Roanoke Times is not naming them or including details of their family relationships with the two defendants.
Living in two mobile homes within a stone’s throw from one another, the two girls were subjected to filthy, bug-infested conditions and the whims of incest in a family that spanned three generations of sexual abuse.
“They were taught to perform sexual acts more so than they were taught to brush their teeth,” Moon said.
In September 2015, when Sigler approached the home to investigate reports of child abuse that had twice been ignored by her department, she found what she called deplorable conditions — preceded by the stench of urine and feces and confirmed when she stepped on a kitten that she first took for dead.
“There was clothing, papers, trash, feces and cockroaches everywhere,” she testified. “You walked in the home and the cockroaches would literally jump on you and crawl all over your body.”
When she opened the refrigerator, Sigler found cockroaches swarming over the food that was inside.
The children were removed from the home and placed in foster care. While they are doing much better with a family that plans to adopt them, both girls still show signs of the abuse they endured.
Now 5 years old, the younger of the two victims shows signs of developmental disorders that have prevented her from entering kindergarten. She can identify just one color, purple, and has yet to master the most basic of words and numbers, according to testimony.
When she spoke shortly after being removed from the home, it was in gibberish that could only be interpreted by her older sister. The girl was prone to screaming and would stay up at night crying.
“She had no ability to verbalize what she was scared of or why she was screaming, but she was clearly fearful of something,” Lindsey Stocks, a family services worker who counseled the child, testified.
Despite what one attorney called “subhuman” conditions in the home, Rockbridge social services workers were slow to respond to complaints from concerned neighbors.
A former supervisor at the agency refused to enter the reports into a computer system as required by state policy and told caseworkers not to be bothered with the case, according to the special grand jury’s report. The Roanoke Times is not naming the supervisor because she was not charged with a crime.
“We don’t do it that way … because that’s the way I want it,” the woman reportedly said when asked to explain her inaction.
The former supervisor, who was accused of shredding some reports of child abuse that were made to the agency, also expressed little sympathy for the plight of the two young girls.
“They’re used to living that way so what’s the big deal?” she was quoted as saying in the grand jury report.
It was only after the children were removed from the home, and the older girl confided in her foster mother and counselor about what had happened there, that authorities brought charges against Clark and Simmons.
Attorneys for the brother and sister said their clients were victims of sexual assault by family members long ago.
Having endured sexual assault by two male family members, Simmons was reduced to a “quivering rabbit” unable to recognize the severity of her actions, defense attorney Mark Claytor said.
“Deviancy to her became the normal,” Claytor said. “It was as if she took a step outside of her body, saw this happening before her, and was powerless to stop it.”
Simmons did not testify Tuesday. Although Clark did, his account did not amount to a full confession.
“I ain’t denying it, but I don’t remember because I’ve got a short memory,” he said when pressed on details during a cross-examination by Moon. “I’ve hit my head so many times on stuff that I can’t remember half of the stuff I do anymore.”
According to evidence presented by defense attorney Thomas McPherson, Clark suffers from mild mental retardation, has not held a job because of his disability, and is incapable of living in an unstructured setting.
In fact, Clark said he likes it just fine where he is, in the Rockbridge Regional Jail.
“As long as I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep on and three meals to eat, I’m happy,” he testified.
“I want to get out someday,” he said from the witness stand, shortly before hearing his sentence from the judge. “But the way it looks I won’t be able to get out just yet.”