TRACY — By the time he arrived at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento in December, Kyle Doe was a shell of a teenager.
He was pale and malnourished, with scars from head to toe, burns so severe they required skin grafts, and an ankle that was swollen and deformed from a metal shackle that he said imprisoned him for more than a year.
During his captivity at a Tracy home, the youth told investigators, he slept on his knees chained to a fireplace grate with his hands lashed behind his back, stole scraps of food to survive, got regular beatings with a baseball bat, and screamed as his tormentors burned him with chemicals and sliced him with a knife.
It all happened, witnesses said, in a rented home on a residential street where neighbors baby-sat one another's children, shared summer barbecues, and walked back and forth to schools and playgrounds with their children.
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Why did no one save Kyle? Late last week, the San Joaquin County Superior Court released a 1,000-page grand jury transcript that contains the testimony from dozens of witnesses, including investigators, doctors, social workers and family members, that was the basis for indicting four suspects. The testimony weaves a story of abuse and neglect that reaches back years and suggests numerous instances in which someone could have intervened to rescue the boy.
But in the end, according to the transcript, Kyle had to save himself.
The youth broke free of his chains one afternoon in December while the people he identified as his captors were distracted. He burst through the back door, bounced on a trampoline in the yard to clear a wall, and ran to a nearby health club, begging for help.
Now 16, he is thriving in new surroundings under the strict supervision of the dependency court and Child Protective Services, said sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a gag order in the case. The four people charged with holding him hostage and ritualistically torturing him are scheduled to appear in court again today in Stockton. They are Caren Ramirez, with whom the teen once lived in the Sacramento area after his mother reportedly turned him over to her; Michael Luther Schumacher and his wife, Kelly Layne Lau, with whom he lived in Tracy; and their neighbor Anthony Waiters.
They have been charged with crimes that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives. Three of them have pleaded not guilty. Schumacher may enter a plea today.
They and their attorneys have declined to discuss their case, citing the gag order.
Grand jury testimony, which identifies the youth as Kyle Doe, suggests that the boy's early life was untethered and chaotic, with a single mother who moved them from place to place because of money problems.
The physical abuse began when he was about 8 years old, after he and his brother, Austin, went to live with Ramirez, he told the grand jury in March.
Taken by mother's friend
Kyle said Ramirez was a friend of his mother's who showed up at their home in Sacramento and took him and his younger brother, Austin, away. Others testified that the mother gave the boys to Ramirez, who took them to an apartment she shared with her adult daughter.
"I always wondered about my mom," Kyle said. "I just didn't know what happened." The mother, Susan, later died of cancer.
Life with Ramirez was OK at first, Kyle testified, but in time she started beating the boys with a belt, a spatula and martial arts weapons when they misbehaved. Police intervened at least once, after the daughter called to report abuse of Austin. Austin was taken from the home, but authorities "really didn't do anything" for Kyle, he testified.
More than a year later, another opportunity for intervention occurred after Ramirez was arrested on a warrant involving Austin's abuse. Kyle testified that he was sent to the Children's Receiving Home of Sacramento. After about three weeks, he said, on the daughter's advice, he ran away and was reunited with Ramirez.
He did it, Kyle said, because the daughter told him Ramirez had threatened to "have people come find me and kill me" if he stayed at the receiving home and ended up in foster care.
During the grand jury proceedings, prosecutor Angela Hayes questioned CPS staff members about whether they tried to find Kyle after he disappeared from the receiving home in May 2007.
Juvenile Court investigator Robin Rogers said she filed a protective custody warrant for the teen and tried to contact Ramirez and her daughter. Ramirez denied knowing where Kyle was, Rogers testified.
Social worker's search
The case apparently was dormant until August, when it was picked up by county social worker Linda Hirsch. Her job was "to try to locate Kyle every month" by making inquiries, she testified.
Hirsch said she repeatedly tried to phone Ramirez, her daughter and a former neighbor. When those efforts failed, she said, she went in January of this year to the daughter's apartment in Citrus Heights.
A woman fitting Ramirez's description answered the door, but denied knowing Kyle's whereabouts. Hirsch contacted police, according to transcripts. Eventually she talked to Kyle's brother, Austin, who said he believed the teen was with Ramirez.
Finally, in April, Hirsch contacted the Social Security Administration after learning Ramirez was collecting checks in Kyle's name. She tried to find out where the checks were being delivered, but Social Security refused her the information, Hirsch said.
By that time, Kyle had been at the Schumacher home for at least six months. The couple agreed to care for Kyle, he said, after meeting Ramirez through a mutual friend. Relatives and friends said the couple told them they had agreed to take in the teen temporarily because he and his "mother" were homeless.
Kyle testified that he diapered, fed and cared for the couple's infant son, cleaned the house, mowed the lawn and did other chores. Ramirez paid them "a couple hundred dollars" for board and lived in the home off and on, he said.
After a few months, he said, Lau and Schumacher "wanted me out of their house" and started abusing him. He calmly testified about getting choked with belts, burned with chemicals, hit with a baseball bat, sliced with razor blades and "branded" with hot objects.
The couple and Ramirez called the abuses "punishment" for forgetting to feed the dog or other indiscretions, Kyle said. Later, Waiters, the neighbor, began participating in the abuse, the teen testified.
"By that time, Kelly was really sick of me. She didn't want me there, and I don't think Michael wanted me there either, so that's when everything just got worse," the youth testified. "Then Caren didn't have nowhere else to put me, so she took her anger out on me, too, so it was really bad for me."
Two of the couple's children, ages 5 and 9, confirmed many of the details of Kyle's allegations.
At times during his captivity, Kyle said, the family had visits from friends and relatives. But the couple took care to shield visitors from what was happening to Kyle, the teen said. When outsiders were around, the youth was allowed to be unchained and sometimes showered but was not allowed to participate in family dinners or other activities, he said.
Many times, he wanted to cry out, Kyle said, "but I was too scared."
Terry Brown, Lau's father, testified that he, his wife and his adult son visited from Southern California in fall of 2008. Lau told him that she and her husband were "baby- sitting" Kyle and that he had "an attitude problem, a behavior problem," Brown said.
Brown testified that he worked for the California Highway Patrol for 30 years. He said he noticed nothing unusual about the teen, except that he "stayed in one place, within the den, near the fireplace" while Brown was in the home.
On a December day shortly after that visit, Kyle made a run for it.
Using a spare key he had hidden inside his shorts, he managed to unshackle himself one morning, he said, but Lau caught him.
He said Lau called Schumacher, who issued a stern warning to Kyle over the phone, the teen said. At that moment, he said, "I knew that I had to hurry up and leave, or it was just going to be the end."
A couple of hours later, while Lau was distracted, he freed himself, he testified. "I saw Kelly coming and begging me not to leave. I opened up the back door and I jumped on the trampoline to jump over the wall."