One of two boys who had been missing for years before authorities were notified was denied food, spanked, forced to run up and down stairs and rolled up tightly in blankets "like a burrito" as punishment in the home of their adoptive parents, an adoptive brother claimed in a statement to investigators.
Austin Eugene Bryant often grew so hungry that he scavenged food from a garbage can, an arrest warrant affidavit quotes the adoptive brother as saying.
Austin and his biological brother, Edward Dylan Bryant, disappeared from their adoptive parents' home in Monument, Colo., by late 2003, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said Thursday. Austin would have been 7 and Edward 11 at the time.
The couple who adopted them, Edward Bryant, 58, and Linda Bryant, 54, have been arrested on charges of receiving nearly $175,000 in government payments to support the boys, even though they weren't living with the couple for most of the decade.
Maketa said the Bryants were entitled to government payments to care for Austin and Edward because both were considered special needs children. He didn't elaborate.
The parents haven't been charged in the boys' disappearances.
They were arrested in Texas, where they had moved around 2005. It was unclear whether they have attorneys. A lawyer who represented them in a 2007 bankruptcy case didn't return a phone message Thursday.
Linda Bryant told investigators she did not kill the boys, the arrest warrant affidavit said. She denied most of the abuse allegations but acknowledged forcing the boys to exercise and withholding food, which she described as "delaying food," the affidavit said.
The affidavit makes no mention of any comment from the elder Edward Bryant about the abuse allegations. It says he denied signing any documents to get payments for the two boys and denied any knowledge of getting government money to help with their care.
Deputies are concentrating now on trying to find the boys, Maketa said. He said deputies have conducted a preliminary search at the Bryants' former home in Monument, just north of Colorado Springs, and further searches are planned there. Whether the search spreads to other areas depends on what investigators find, he said.
Asked if he thought the brothers were still alive, Maketa said, "You know, that's a very difficult question. What I can say is each day that passes, the faith of finding them alive diminishes."
At a news conference Thursday, Maketa displayed sketchy timelines of the two boys' lives. Edward was born in May 1992, Austin in January 1996. Both were adopted by the Bryants in March 2000.
Austin shows up in Monument-area school records from 2001 through late 2003, the sheriff said, but the paper trail ends in October 2003.
"There was some activity" in the younger Edward's Medicaid account in December 2003, the sheriff said, but after that, his trail also goes cold.
"Somebody out there knows something about them," Maketa said. "And what they may know may be old, but it's very important that we get access to those people and that information so that we know what direction this investigation is going to go."
The parents gave conflicting accounts of when they last saw the boys, Maketa said. Edward Bryant said the younger Edward ran away in 2001 and Austin in 2003, investigators said, while Linda Bryant said they both ran away in 2003.
Maketa said the family still lived in Colorado at the time but the parents didn't file a missing-person report.
The investigation started Jan. 22 when authorities were approached by Ricky and Bryan Pennington, brothers who were once foster children of Linda Bryant's biological daughter. They had been talking about contradictions in what they were told about why Austin and Edward were no longer with the Bryants, Maketa said.
After they were approached by the Pennington brothers, investigators tracked down James Bryant, one the missing boys' other adopted brothers and a soldier at Fort Campbell, Ky. It was James Bryant who told investigators about seeing Austin rolled up tightly to restrain him and that Austin was subjected to other abuse.
James Bryant said by the time he was adopted by Edward and Linda Bryant, the younger Edward was no longer in the home.
Bryan Pennington told investigators he too had seen Austin rolled tightly in blankets and left on the floor "for extended periods of time."
"This was apparently suggested to the Bryants by a therapist," the affidavit said, without further explanation.
Bryan Pennington also told investigators that Austin told him he had been shot by a stun gun by his adoptive parents and had sometimes been placed in a trunk in the garage. The affidavit includes no eyewitness to those accounts.
Maketa said the Bryants had adopted seven other children, including a biological brother of Austin and Edward. Five, including the missing boys' brother, were living with Linda Bryant when she was arrested.
A sixth brother is incarcerated, Maketa said, but it wasn't clear where, or on what conviction. The seventh brother is James Bryant, the soldier.
Linda Bryant was arrested Feb. 25 in Lake Kiowa. Edward Bryant was arrested the same day in Denton, Texas, where he works.
They were extradited to Colorado on March 4 and are being held in the El Paso County jail on charges including theft, forgery and falsified documents. Bail was set at $1 million for each.
The El Paso County sheriff's hot line for tips in the case is 719-520-7209.
Associated Press writers Catherine Tsai in Denver and Danny Robbins in Dallas and news researcher Judy Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.