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Police: Florida parents charged with abandoning kids had syringes in truck

From John Newsome, CNN
updated 7:32 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
Michael and Sarah Butcher, both 30, were charged with child neglect after their children allegedly were abandoned.
Michael and Sarah Butcher, both 30, were charged with child neglect after their children allegedly were abandoned.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Man and wife arrested after strange behavior at retirement community
  • Police say they were arrested, and meth was later found in the man's pocket
  • Later, deputy finds three cold, dirty children who say they're the couple's kids
  • Police: It appears the kids -- ages 6, 8 and 10 -- and their parents were living out of a truck

(CNN) -- The parents of three children are in a Florida jail after leaving the kids to wander the woods while the parents may have been high, possibly on methamphetamine, according to police and CNN affiliates.

Authorities were dispatched to investigate a suspicious vehicle at a Punta Gorda RV park Friday, Lt. Rick McDonald with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office told CNN. When police arrived, security guard John Kersey had found the vehicle's owners, Michael and Sarah Butcher, both 30, wandering the RV park, McDonald said.

Kersey told CNN Fort Myers affiliate WBBH he called 911 after trying unsuccessfully to persuade the couple to leave.

The man "was high," Kersey told WBBH. "He was on something. That's for sure."

The Butchers had valid Alabama driver's licenses, but their vehicle registration was expired, according to CNN Fort Myers affiliate WFTX.

The RV park is a quiet retirement community situated around a 20-acre lake, so Arthur Giasson thought it was odd to find an "agitated" man there "talking in a loud manner and just acting strangely," he told WBBH.

Giasson told WBBH he locked up his four-wheeler and noticed a woman standing near a trailer as a man began banging on residents' doors, asking to be let in.

Police arrested the Butchers and charged them with loitering and prowling, and transported them to the county jail. There, McDonald said, police found methamphetamine in Michael Butcher's front pocket, resulting in additional charges of possession of a controlled substance and introducing contraband to a county detention facility.

The Butchers' troubles didn't end there.

While the couple never mentioned they had kids -- much less in their charge at the RV park -- a deputy called the police station to say he'd located three children, ages 6, 8 and 10, in the woods about a mile from the park. The kids told police they were the Butchers' children and that their parents had disappeared after bringing them to the woods to camp, McDonald said.

Dirty, hungry and cold, the children told police they'd wandered off to play and returned to the RV park to find their parents' truck gone, McDonald said.

It's unclear how long the children had been left alone, and police told WBBH that it appears the family was living out of a truck filled with syringes and old food.

Both parents were charged with abandonment without great harm, a third-degree felony under Florida law.

The state Department of Children and Families took custody of the children, McDonald said.

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CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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