A Florida couple arrested after their 6-year-old son was found unconscious in the toilet of a squalid hotel room have been charged with murdering the boy and abusing their other five children so badly their bodies were covered in cuts, bruises, and marks that matched a blood-smeared shoe.
Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez called it “the worse child abuse case” he and his detectives had ever seen—and he denounced the parents, Bianca Blaise and Larry Rhodes, as “savages” and “monsters.”
At a Wednesday news conference, featuring photos of the Knights Inn hotel room that housed the family of eight for months and of some of the injuries, Lopez revealed that two of the surviving children had described horrific beatings.
And an autopsy on the 6-year-old revealed that he died from blunt force trauma that included a brain bleed and a lacerated liver.
According to an earlier police report, Blaise told investigators that Rhodes was off his medication for schizophrenia and that he was the one who hit the children—but the sheriff told reporters she was just as responsible for her son’s death.
The family moved from Fort Myers to the hotel room in Kissimmee in March, but none of the kids attended school or even played outside. Those staying in nearby rooms never even heard any crying, which Lopez said could indicate they were inured to the abuse.
Police were summoned to the hotel room on July 5 by a 911 call from Blaise, who said her child had drowned while drinking from the toilet, and the first detective on the scene found the boy with his head in the water.
‘Throughout our investigation it was learned the child was drinking from the toilet, but that had nothing to do with why he was not breathing,” Lopez said.
“His parents got very angry because he was drinking out of the toilet and they started to beat him. First the mother beat him. Then the father started repeatedly punching this little boy with a closed fist.”
The boy was taken to the hospital and placed on life support, and his parents were arrested on neglect charges. The boy died some days later, as authorities were piecing together what the children—the survivors are ages 5, 4, 2, and 10 months—endured.
“It was immediately clear the other children were also victims of child abuse,” Lopez said, adding that all of kids were malnourished, small for their age, and covered in old and fresh abrasions and bruises.
Detectives noticed a distinctively shaped mark on their “tiny little bodies” that perfectly matched the sole of a shoe they said was used as a weapon. Blood spatter was found on the walls of the room. One child had a fractured clavicle.
The 4-year-old and 5-year-old were able to tell investigators what they had gone through, and that, along with the autopsy results, led the state’s attorney to charge Blaise, 25, and Rhodes, 22, with murder, aggravated manslaughter, aggravated child abuse, and child neglect.
The children are now in the same foster home and doing well.
“We were able to take these kids from these monsters and hopefully they will never see them again,” Lopez said.