(DALLAS, Ga.) — Emaciated and alone, Mitch Comer didn’t even know his home address or what Georgia town he was from when last week, at the age of 18, he was discovered by a security guard at a Los Angeles bus station.
Joe Gonzalez, a security guard at the Greyhound station in downtown L.A., came upon Comer looking frightened and perplexed last Tuesday. After speaking to him for a bit, Gonzalez learned that the teen had arrived alone after a cross-country journey he was sent on by his stepfather.
Alarmed by what he was told by the frail teen, Gonzalez, a former police sergeant, notified the LAPD, who questioned Mitch.
“The story we got was that the stepfather took the kid to the bus depot, said ‘Here’s $200, here’s a list of the homeless shelters in Los Angeles, you’re a man now, and don’t come back,'” LAPD Commander Andrew Smith told WABC.
Police soon learned from the frail teenager that his solo cross-country journey was just part of what the Paulding county sheriff’s office in Dallas, Ga., where Mitch grew up, is calling “a severe case of child abuse and neglect.”
Mitch told officers that his parents, Paul Comer, 48, and Sheila Comer, 39, had taken him out of school in the 8th grade and kept him locked in a bedroom for four years. According to Dick Donovan, the district attorney in Dallas, Paul Comer drove Mitch to a bus stop in Mississippi on his 18th birthday.
On Friday, police cars were parked outside the Georgia home where the young man said he was held captive by his stepfather and mother for most of his teenage years.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that he’s lying, based on his appearance, the stories he’s told and the interview with his mom and dad,” Ashley Henson, who’s with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Department, told ABC News.
Henson said that when he was found, Mitch, who is 5 foot 3 inches tall, weighted 87 pounds.
“He knew he had come from Paulding county, and what his name was. My understanding is that his father confessed, and said, ‘Yes, I gave him a list of shelters and $200 and sent him to LA,” Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan told ABC News.
The FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have now joined the investigation into what went on at the Comers’ home.
John White, who has lived next door to the Comers since April, told ABC News that he rarely saw the couple, and that he was surprised to hear that there was a teenager living in the house. He said that he rarely saw the couple’s girls.
“I’d see the girls in the yard, in the back yard riding their bikes. Never out of the yard, always in the back. They tried to socialize with the kids next door, but she told me the father wouldn’t let them play,” White said.
The girls, who Donovan said are 11 and 12, are now in the custody of the Paulding County Division of Family & Children Services.
According to Donovan, Mitch is the adopted son of Paul Comer, though Henson said the sheriff’s office has yet to see any documentation that Mitch had actually been adopted by his stepfather.
Authorities said that once he was discovered by Gonzalez, Mitch spent a day at Exodus Recovery Center in L.A. and nearly a week in a local group home in L.A. This week, detectives and representatives from the Paulding County D.A.’s office flew to Los Angeles to retrieve Mitch. He arrived back Thursday, according to Henson, and now remains in Paulding County.
Paul and Sheila Comer are in custody after being arrested at their home in Dallas, an upscale Georgia suburb, after they were tracked down by authorities through their in-home business. They are now facing six counts of cruelty to children and one count of false imprisonment, and are being held without bond.
The Paulding County Sheriff’s Office said that this is still an active case, and there may be more charges pending in the future.
A preliminary hearing and the hearing for their bond will be held on Oct. 4.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Melissa Gray, CNN
Megan McNulty, Deseret News