Tennessee couple charged after 10-year-old girl’s remains found buried in backyard

Tennessee couple charged after 10-year-old girl’s remains found buried in backyard
Michael Gray Sr., left, and Shirley Gray, both of Ten Mile, Tenn., are charged with abuse of a corpse, two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated child abuse and three counts of aggravated child neglect. The couple is accused of abusing four children, including a 10-year-old girl found buried in their backyard. (Roane County Sheriff's Office)

ROANE COUNTY, Tenn. — A Tennessee couple faces multiple charges involving the abuse of their four children after the skeletal remains of one child were found buried in their backyard over the weekend.

Another child, a boy of about 15 years, was found confined to the home’s basement, where authorities believe he had been kept for years as punishment for taking food from the pantry and refrigerator, according to court documents obtained by the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Michael Anthony Gray Sr., 63, of Ten Mile, is charged with abuse of a corpse, two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated child abuse and three counts of aggravated child neglect, according to Russell Johnson, district attorney general for the Ninth Judicial District.

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Gray’s wife, Shirley Ann Gray, 60, faces all the same charges. Each of the defendants is being held in the Roane County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bond.

The kidnapping and child abuse charges are related to two of the children and the child neglect charges are in connection with those two children, as well as a third child, Johnson said Tuesday outside the courthouse.

The abuse of a corpse charge stems from the discovery early Saturday morning of bones believed to belong to the couple’s fourth child, a daughter. Her remains were found in a barn behind the family’s rural home.

“Obviously, that begs the question about additional charges relative to how that child died, and who’s responsible, and how, for that child’s death,” Johnson said.

Listen to prosecutor Russell Johnson speak about the case below, courtesy of WATE.

Johnson said investigators are awaiting tests on the girl’s remains to determine how and when she died.

Authorities said none of the children are the Grays’ biological children, but they are the children’s legal guardians. Their exact relationship is not clear.

Editor’s note: The following story contains graphic details of child abuse.

The News Sentinel reported that authorities first became aware of the situation Friday when passersby spotted one of the couple’s children walking alone on a road near the family’s home. When Roane County Sheriff’s Office investigators and Department of Children’s Services caseworkers went to the home to investigate further, they found the 15-year-old boy locked inside the basement.

See a news report on the case by WBIR below.

The basement was partially flooded, had no electricity or running water and was filled with garbage and mold, the newspaper reported. The warrants, read aloud in court Tuesday, indicated the boy was forced to use a bucket to relieve himself.

He had been confined to a room in the basement since the summer of 2016, shortly after the family moved to Tennessee from Meridian, Mississippi, according to the warrants.

Investigators allege that the boy’s 10-year-old sister was also confined to the basement room in 2017 for stealing food. She was fed nothing but bread and water and died a few months later, according to the court documents.

“She was buried just outside the door in a pole barn with the goats, chickens and the pigs,” the judge read in court.

Michael Gray admitted to burying the girl, authorities said.

Listen to a portion of Tuesday’s court hearing below, courtesy of WBIR.

The arrest warrants allege that none of the children, who were reportedly home-schooled, had been to a doctor in more than six years, the News Sentinel reported. The couple admitted that all four had been diagnosed with “failure to thrive” the last time they had a checkup.

The surviving children’s growth appears to have been stunted due to malnutrition. Despite Shirley Gray’s claims of home-schooling the children, their education was obviously lacking, the warrants allege.

“(Two of the children) appear to have no formal education and were, in fact, amazed by what a refrigerator does when they observed one in their foster home,” the warrants say, according to the News Sentinel.