California couple arrested after 3 children found living in plywood box for years

Two parents were arrested after their three children were discovered living in a box among feces and trash outside a trailer just east of Joshua Tree, deputies said Thursday.

San Bernardino County sheriff's officials released this image of a plywood box three children were allegedly forced in to live on a property near Joshua Tree on March 1, 2018.

San Bernardino County sheriff's officials released this image of a plywood box three children were allegedly forced in to live on a property near Joshua Tree on March 1, 2018.

The children - ages 14, 13 and 11 - told authorities they'd been living in a plywood box for about four years, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said in a news release. The makeshift structure measured 20 feet long, 10 feet wide and 4 feet high, authorities said.

Officials made the discovery after happening upon a travel trailer that looked abandoned in the 7000 block of Sunfair Road while on patrol around 11 a.m. Wednesday morning.

An initial survey of the property revealed there was no electricity or running water, and large holes, mounds of trash and human feces were scattered throughout the area, deputies said.

Photos of the property released by sheriff's officials show unkempt living conditions, with debris, storage boxes and indoor furniture littered among children's toys and bikes. The makeshift structure the victims allegedly lived in appeared to be constructed of several pieces of weather-damaged plywood, stacked together and covered with a tarp as roofing.

There were also 30 to 40 cats found living inside the trailer, the Sheriff's Department said.

The children were not being properly fed and clearly living in extreme squalor, officials determined. All three were placed into the custody of San Bernardino County Children and Family Services.

Their parents — Mona Kirk, 51, and Daniel Panico, 73 — were arrested on suspicion of willful cruelty to a child.

They were being held in lieu of $100,000 bail and expected to appear in court Friday, inmate records show.

Officials did not say whether the cats were turned over to Animal Care & Control.

Anyone with information related to the investigation can call the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Morongo Basin station at 760-366-4175, or submit a tip anonymously via 888-782-7463.