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The mother of a 14-year-old boy who died Thursday is under investigation after police found more than 200 animals in their squalid suburban Chicago home.
Neighbors of the Berwyn, Illinois family told NBC Chicago 14-year-old Matthew Degner's lifeless body was dragged outside by family members Thursday, who presumably hoped that authorities would not look inside the home. Police did, however, and were horrified by what they found.
“Our animal control officers who have been in some pretty horrific and disgusting environments said this home was easily the worst they’ve been in,’’ sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Degner was pronounced dead at MacNeal Hospital Thursday afternoon. An autopsy showed that he died from bronchopneumonia.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took custody of three of the boy's siblings, ages 12 to 17, according to the Chicago Tribune. A fourth sibling, who is 18, was hospitalized.
Officials told NBC that all of the children were suffering from flu-like symptoms recently.
From the Tribune:
Officials said it was unclear whether the animals or living conditions were responsible for the children's illnesses. A spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health said the agency's communicable disease unit had not been asked to respond as part of the investigation.
Neighbors told NBC that the children appeared malnourished and never attended school. DCFS told the Tribune they were kept in isolation, and rarely left the home they shared with their mother and grandmother.
"Social isolation is one of the most powerful risk factors for serious harm to children," DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe told the Tribune. "If we as a community never knock on that door that no one ever seems to open, we may never know how bad it is or how we can help."
Birds were flying freely in the home and dozens of cats were sick, hungry and surrounded by feces. Animal Control also found dogs, rabbits, squirrels, one raccoon, two monkeys and two kinkajous, according to NBC. The Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge helped remove the animals, bringing 196 of them to their southwest suburban shelter. Anyone wishing to help with the rescued animals can visit AnimalWelfareLeague.com or call (708) 636-8586.
No charges had been filed against the boy's mother as of Saturday morning.