The children of a Charlotte mom charged with child abuse described to police how they were forced to do countless sit-ups and push-ups for food and were beaten with belts, sticks, hangers, wires and fists for “stealing” something to eat in their home, according to a search warrant.
The four children of Ronika Bell, 28, described being “whooped” with a belt when they asked for food and how the one meal they received each day was cereal with water, according to the warrant returned by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police to the Mecklenburg County Clerk of Court’s office this week.
Some days, the children said, they weren’t fed at all, even though a refrigerator with a freezer, as well as a deep freezer and a stand-up freezer were full of food, according to the warrant.
Bell’s 10-year-old daughter said cabinets were full of canned vegetables and beans, snacks, Pop-Tarts, crackers, cookies and cans of Manwich.
The children told police their mother would lock them in a downstairs room of their northeast Charlotte home. When they cried out that they were hungry, Bell told them not to bother her and said, “Get away from the door and quit calling my name,” according to the warrant.
When they lived at a previous apartment, the children told police, their mother would leave them alone while she was at work. Other times, she locked them out of the apartment, leaving them unattended, according to the warrant.
The children sometimes went to their great-grandmother’s home and stayed with her.
Bell and her friend, Deron Cuthbertson Jr., 33, were arrested on Nov. 7 at the home they shared in the 6000 block of Craftsbury Drive, off The Plaza between Milton Road and Harris Boulevard.
Each faces four counts of felony child abuse inflicting serious injury.
The children were so starved that they couldn’t swallow food when they were left with their father in Florida three months ago, police said.
“The father tried to care for them but realized quickly that they needed help,” Capt. Jacquelyn Hulsey of CMPD’s Special Victims Division said after the arrests.
Police said the children – a 10-year-old girl and boys aged 9, 8 and 6 – lived with Bell and Cuthbertson through the summer.
Hulsey said it is possible the children were able to get enough food while attending school, but their condition deteriorated during the summer when school was on break. She said detectives believe the children were kept in a room at the Craftsbury Drive house, and that is why neighbors didn’t notice any problems.
“This is a hard case to handle,” Hulsey said. “It’s hard to handle looking at the photographs.”
In September, Bell took the children to the biological father’s house in the Pensacola, Fla., area, police said.
The father, Joshua Bell, said Ronika called to tell him she’d been evicted from her home and needed to bring the children to him. When Ronika brought the children to Florida, they appeared “malnourished, very skinny and dirty,” Joshua told police, according to the warrant.
“After feeding the children, all four became sick and unable to keep their food down,” the warrant says.
Joshua Bell called the local sheriff’s office and took the children to a hospital.
The 6- and 8-year-olds were admitted into the hospital for malnutrition, the warrant says.
The 6-year-old was later readmitted to the hospital due to congestive heart failure and blood in his urine, caused by severe malnutrition, the warrant says.
The other two children were treated and released.
The father is now caring for the children, police said.
“Why would a mother do this?” Hulsey asked after the arrests. “I can’t answer that. I don’t know what her intentions were.”
Bell is being held under $300,000 bond. Cuthbertson is jailed under $100,000 bond.