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Parents, grandmother indicted on infant starvation charges

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The parents, who allegedly starved their infant twins while strung out on prescription drugs, and the grandmother who didn't call police, have been indicted on multiple felonies.

James Alvin McCart, III, and Tessa Noel Zelek, parents of the two boys who reportedly looked like "concentration camp survivors" when discovered by police, were charged with cruelty to children, contributing to the deprivation of minors and forgery of methadone prescriptions.

Christi Zelek, the children's grandmother and a former Henry County School System Special Education Coordinator, was charged with "knowingly and willfully" failing to report child abuse and contributing to the deprivation of a minor.

The grand jury passed down the 10-count indictment on Wednesday, eight months after the three were arrested.

According to the indictment, the parents "did willfully fail to act, to wit: did fail to provide adequate food and drink," leaving the twin boys "severely malnourished."

Clayton County Police Detective Joanne Southerland said the two children, who will be 2 in November, are in the custody of family.

"They're healthy," she said. "They're progressing and the doctors all say that they're doing well."

Police began investigating McCart and Tessa Zelek, both 23, when Christi Zelek, Tessa's mother, discovered them in their Lovejoy mobile home unconscious and took them to the hospital. McCart tested positive for cocaine, police said.

Family members, called in to take care of the infant twins, and allegedly ordered by the elder Zelek to "keep the police and the Department of Family and Children Services from discovering the children's condition," took the two boys to a children's hospital. Doctors called DFCS and police, saying the boys had been starved nearly to death and calling it the "worst case of child neglect" they'd ever seen, according to Southerland.

Christi Zelek was arrested while teaching an early childhood development class, and reportedly told police "there's nothing wrong with those boys." The twins were reportedly born prematurely and the family's lawyers maintain the alleged "emaciation" was just small size.

Police said, though, that the twins might have died within days, if they hadn't received medical attention, and that they suffered rickets, "significant loss of brain function," and brain atrophy.

When Police Chief Jeff Turner saw the two children, he said they looked like famine victims. "It almost makes you lose your faith in humankind," he said. "It hurts you down to the very core of your soul."

When police searched McCart and Zelek's trailer home, they found prescription drugs, including methadone, an opiate, allegedly obtained with forged prescriptions.

McCart and Tessa Zelek have both accused each other of failing to feed the children and of having a debilitating drug addiction, police said.