May 25, 2023

Records: Gary couple charged after six kids found neglected

Six kids were removed May 31 from a Gary home in "deplorable" conditions, court records allege.

The oldest child, 11, was playing at a nearby park when Gary Police went with an Indiana Department of Child Services caseworker for a "welfare check" in the 700 block of Adams Street.

The five other kids, aged 8 months to 5 years, all appeared "extremely neglected" and "malnourished" inside the home.

Later, a physician assistant at a Chicago children's hospital told police the baby was admitted "days" from starving to death.

The couple admitted recent drug use and said they shouldn't have custody. The home's electricity and water had been shut off.

Gabriel Washington, 39, and Jessica Hegwood, 32, both of Gary, were charged with six counts of neglect.

Both are in custody, held on a $10,000 cash bond each. Each made a court appearance Monday where a magistrate ordered a public defender appointed.

Hegwood and Washington's next appearances are June 14 and 15, respectively before Lake Superior Judge Samuel Cappas.

Officers responding to the home said it was "hot and muggy." Stuff and trash were scattered in every room.

The three youngest, aged 2 and under, were in bedrooms. The 8-month-old boy was "underweight" — later weighing just 10 pounds.

Two other children, aged 4 and 5, were with the couple in the living room. All the children had "soiled clothes."

They were taken to Methodist Hospital. The three youngest were later transferred to University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital.

Court records allege Hegwood had "slurred speech," "delayed reactions" and bad "motor skills" as if she was on drugs.

She was "drowsy" and "unstable on her feet," according to the affidavit.

There was "no food," except for a pack of bologna on the floor.

Hegwood was "barely speaking," saying she had just smoked marijuana and was "just tired right now."

At the Chicago hospital, the physician assistant told investigators the three youngest kids had "severe" health problems.

The oldest of two couldn't stand because they had lost so much muscle mass. The middle of the three had "eye problems" from malnutrition.

Washington said he was the father of the five youngest kids and stepfather to the oldest boy, 11. The boy's father was a "street walker" and "not around."

"Most" if not every kid was born with "cocaine" and "other drugs" in their system and were removed by child services in the past, they said.

Hegwood said she fought to get them back and had to "prove" she could take care of them.

Both said they recently used synthetic marijuana, Xanax, Klonopin and cocaine. Washington admitted he took Klonopin that day.

They later admitted both took the kids to buy "dope" or cocaine "several times" at a drug house on 21st Avenue, or another place for synthetic marijuana.

They let the 11-year-old boy play at the park when they bought drugs.

When told the boy knew about one of the drug houses, they said he wouldn't have "snitched" and wasn't allowed to share "family secrets."

Utilities had been disconnected for two days, they claimed, which wasn't "ideal."

They didn't take the 8-month-old to a clinic because they were afraid they’d be arrested for allowing the baby to starve.

They had food stamps, but let WIC expire because they had to take the kids to the office to renew benefits, they said.

The children "shouldn't be in their custody."

Washington said he tried to give one child to a grandma to raise. He "lied" to try to get Hegwood to give the baby up for adoption.

Sometimes, the second youngest child's head "went limp," but they didn't take her to the hospital because they didn't want her to get a "disability check."

The water was shut off since May 3 and multiple times before, the Gary Sanitary District told investigators. NIPSCO said the electricity was shut off on May 19.

The three youngest were "so malnourished" their weights couldn't be "plotted" on a standard growth graph, the physician assistant said.

They all had developmental and motor delays and were not "acquiring neural connections." Chronic hunger would make them feel like they had flu or COVID symptoms (i.e., they’d be crying).

The kids had a "long road to recovery," she said. The baby was only "days" from starvation.

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