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Twins whose escape from Cypress home led to couple's arrest suffered horrific abuse, neighbor says

KHOU-TV Houston 10/19/2022 Michelle Homer, Anayeli Ruiz (KHOU), Cory McCord (KHOU)

WARNING: Contains graphic content

The handcuffed teens whose escape from a Cypress home led to the arrests of their mother and her boyfriend suffered horrific abuse, according to a source.

The 16-year-old twins ran door to door through the neighborhood for half an hour early Tuesday pleading for help. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Zaikiya  Duncan and Jova Terrell are charged. However, as of Thursday morning, no official charges had been filed.

The boy was shirtless, both were barefoot and shivering when a kind woman in a nearby subdivision answered her door and let them inside. 

"They were so skinny and so frail. They just looked like they had been through a lot," the woman said. "They told me that their mom kept them locked in the laundry room, naked, zip tied from the ankles and handcuffed from the wrist."

RELATED: Woman accused of abusing her children long before Tuesday's AMBER Alert

The woman fed them, wrapped them in blankets and called the Precinct 5 Constable's Office.

The twins told investigators they weren't allowed to use the toilet and were forced to drink their own urine and live surrounded by feces in the laundry room. Both were malnourished and the boy had at least one fractured bone that had healed, a source said. They also had bruises, cuts and scars all over their bodies and were extremely thin with their bones sticking out. 

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"They would only feed them a sandwich, only if they were quiet the whole day, if they made any type of noise they wouldn’t be fed," the woman said. "How a mother could do this to her kids and... I feel like my tears are out of frustration, anger and sadness."

Deputies went to the house to investigate but the couple and five other children, ages 8 to 14, were gone so an AMBER Alert was issued.

Hours later, Zaikiya  Duncan, 40, and Jova Terrell, 27, were arrested in Baton Rouge, La. Both could be charged with injury to a child and will be brought back to Houston on Thursday.

Only one child was with the couple when they were arrested. The other four boys were later found safe with relatives in Louisiana. All seven children were placed in Child Protective Service custody, according to authorities.

The twins who escaped said their 12-year-old twin brothers were also abused but not as much as them. 

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Troubling past

It's not the first time Duncan has been arrested and charged due to alleged child abuse.

According to Louisiana court documents from 10 years ago, a then 5-year-old child of Duncan's was taken from school to a local hospital to be treated for burns to his feet, genitals, and other parts of his body.

Doctors determined it was likely the result of being burned by hot water.

The boy also had bruises on his torso, back, hip and buttocks.

According to the documents, when police went to Duncan's home, they found a 20-month-old child wrapped in clothing with his hands bound. The only other person in the home was the child's 4-year-old brother, according to the documents.

During questioning, police said Duncan admitted to routinely disciplining one child by making him get into a push-up position for up to an hour, causing the child's hands to swell. The child was also forced to sleep on the floor of the closet, court documents said. The door of the closet was blocked by boards to keep the child from "escaping" and "stealing food from the kitchen," court records said.

Police reported at the time that two of Duncan's other children also showed signs of abuse and were removed from the home. They said Duncan admitted she had been investigated for allegedly abusing the children in the past. She was charged with cruelty to juveniles.

It's not clear how long Duncan and her current boyfriend had lived in the house on Marina Alto Lane, near the intersection of West Road and Fry Road. 

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the Harris County Precinct 5 Constables Dispatch Office at 281-463-6666.

Houston Children's Assessment Center psychologist Dr. Whitney Crowson said children who suffer this kind of abuse can recover with proper help.

“Oftentimes, we think there’s no way they can get through all of this, but children are so much more resilient than we give them credit for. Really, what they need is ongoing and consistent support," she said.

To report abuse, call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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