LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A small, gaunt Georgia teen who turned up at a Los Angeles bus terminal told police his abusive stepfather had given him $200 and a list of homeless shelters before putting him on a bus, authorities said on Thursday.
Police were called to the city's Greyhound Bus Station on September 11 by a retired sergeant, Joe Gonzales, who was working security there, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said in a news release.
The officers found 18-year-old Mitch Comer, a "pale, gaunt" youngster weighing 87 pounds and standing just over five feet tall, whom police at first thought was aged 12 or 13.
"Comer explained that his stepfather had told him he was now a man, given him $200 and put him on a bus in Jackson, Mississippi, with a list of homeless shelters he had located on the Internet," Los Angeles police said in a news release.
Investigating the story further, Comer provided details to police of abuse over a period of at least four years. After removing him from school in the eighth grade, his stepfather, identified as Paul Matthew Comer, 48, shut him in a room.
The youngster was fed only small amounts of food and forced to hold a grueling disciplinary position for eight hours a day with the top of his head against a wall, his fingers interlaced behind his head, and his feet raised off the ground.
The younger Comer told police he had two younger sisters still living at home. LAPD contacted local Paulding County, Georgia, sheriff's deputies, who immediately went to the family home and took Comer's stepfather and mother, Sheila Marie Comer, in for questioning.
The parents were subsequently arrested on child abuse and false imprisonment charges. Detectives also put Mitch Comer's younger sisters, Catrina and Lya, into protective custody with Paulding County Children's Services.
After staying in a Los Angeles board and care home, Mitch Comer flew to Georgia on Wednesday to help in the investigation and legal proceedings against his parents.
"I am greatly relieved and thankful that one of our retired officers brought this victim to our attention and started the process to uncover these heartbreaking circumstances," Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement.
"Without the intervention of retired Sergeant Gonzales, Mitch Comer and his young sisters would still be suffering," he added.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Sandra Maler)