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Allegedly starved twins released from hospital

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The toys were piled up on two blue chairs at the police station: Teddy bears and toy trucks, play sets and stuffed animals. Though unwrapped, the pile of presents represented Christmas for the twin infants who were recently found emaciated, skeletal, and near death.

The 13-month-old boys are in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services, and their parents are in jail facing charges of abuse and neglect.

Clayton County Police allege that Tessa Noel Zelek and James Alvin McCart, III, both 23, allowed their babies to starve until they looked like concentration camp survivors. Police Chief Jeff Turner said the twins tugged at the hearts of everyone in the department, and they worked with DFCS and community members to provide a Christmas for them.

"In law enforcement," the chief said, "we are sometimes faced with the task of removing a child from its home. Sometimes, an officer will call me and say, 'My heart goes out to that family.'"

The two boys -- known in the county's justice system simply as "the twins" -- were released Thursday from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. When they were admitted on Nov. 20, each weighed about nine pounds -- well below the weight of a normal, healthy, 13-month-old child, and well below a healthy weight even for boys born, like the twins, prematurely.

This week, both babies weighed more than 11 pounds, and seemed to be improving steadily. "They're filled out and they look great," Turner said. "You can't see all their bones anymore."

Chuck Fischer, the deputy director of the county's DFCS office, said the children have been gaining a pound a week, in the first few weeks after they began receiving expert care.

"They're looking like little babies now," Fischer said. "They're smiling and they have expressions on their faces. We expect the progress to continue."

When police arrested Zelek and McCart, news of the emaciated children spread locally and nationally, causing concerned people to call DFCS and offer help, Fischer said.

"We've had people call from as far away as Massachusetts to say, 'Oh, we want to adopt them,'" Fischer said. "There tends to be that knee-jerk reaction, but what we really need is something more sustained."

DFCS has established a fund in the twins' name and the public can donate to their care. The boys are facing serious medical issues because of their low weight.

The boys have suffered rickets, a "significant loss of brain function," brain atrophy, and are only mentally developed to the level of 2- or 3-month-old children, doctors told police.

Doctors at Egleston told police the once-emaciated twins are the worst case of child neglect they had ever seen, Detective Joanne Southerland said. Dr. Karen Kagen told Southerland the stronger twin might have died in a few days, and the weaker one might have died in 12 hours, if they hadn't received medical attention.

Those who want to help the twins can contribute to:

The McCart Twins Fund

Bank of North Georgia

Attn: Amy Menke

2063 Ga. Highway 54 West

Peachtree City, Ga. 30269