A woman physically and emotionally abused at least six of her adopted children over a decade, including forcing them to use buckets as toilets and limiting their diet so severely that it stunted their growth, authorities said.
Anya James, 50, pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of kidnapping and six counts of first-degree assault during a court appearance Wednesday. Trial was tentatively set for Aug. 15. However, her attorney, Rex Butler, told reporters following the arraignment that the case was so complex, he didn't anticipate it going to trial this year.
Anchorage police said James fostered and adopted the six children between 2000 and 2010, collecting more than $750,000 in state adoption subsidies. Police began investigating abuse allegations against four of the children living in her home after receiving a tip in October.
While she couldn't speak to specifics in this case, Christy Lawton, the director for the state Office of Children Services, told The Associated Press any time a child is placed a home, in-depth individual interviews with everyone living there, as well as with collateral contacts, are conducted. If someone doesn't pass, a child wouldn't be placed in the home.
Foster parents only receive state and federal subsidies dependent upon the child's special needs. The subsidies, which are negotiated, are intended for the care of those needs, Lawton said.
Investigators said that James moved to the city's affluent Hillside neighborhood in 2001, where she homeschooled her children and limited their contact with the outside world.
Children were confined to small rooms, with alarms on doors and windows to signal any escape attempts, authorities said. Even though police said there were three working toilets in the house, the children were forced to use a bucket filled with cat litter.
Authorities also said James restricted the children's diets and they became malnourished. Several of them were hospitalized when they were removed from the house in October.
The malnourishment stunted their growth and prevented them from going through puberty at the appropriate age, police said.
"What people are hearing and seeing right now is one side of a two-sided coin," Butler said in countering many of the state's claims.
"There were no locks on the doors, so to say somehow she has kidnapped these people, these young folks when in fact she had the kinds of children that a lot of people will not take in, even as foster parents, because of the intense care that is required," he said.
He said many of the children were in and out of the home, with many taking off for days at a time, a situation he said "is not unusual with children who are damaged."
Butler also said the buckets were optional for the children in case they didn't want to walk to the bathroom.
"Miss James is a vegetarian. She raised her family as vegetarians as well, so it's not a situation where she's not feeding them or giving them adequate food," Butler said.
Detectives believe James may have had other adopted children before 2000. They have asked the public for any information about children living in her home before that time.
Bail for James was set at $100,000. A separate bail hearing will be scheduled later.
Anchorage police hotline for tips in the case: 907-786-2628