A St. Bernard Parish constable serving an eviction notice was puzzled by the boy who opened the mobile home door at a rural trailer park Wednesday afternoon.
It was midday, but the 14-year-old boy wasn't at school. And the boy could barely stand up straight, propping himself up against the RV door because of a bruised, swollen foot.
Constable Tony Guerra quickly called the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office.
Now sheriff's detectives are unraveling the mystery of an injured, malnourished boy, weighing only 60 pounds, who had not attended school or seen a doctor in the more than four years he lived with his father throughout the New Orleans area.
Detectives arrested the boy's father, Daniel Ballard, 30, and booked him with cruelty to a juvenile Wednesday.
Ballard had told Guerra that he was home-schooling the boy, but Guerra said Thursday that "seeing the situation, I knew that wasn't true."
Detectives who arrived at the Fanz Mobile Home Estates, in the St. Bernard community at the eastern end of the parish, found an unkempt RV filled to the brim with old televisions and other junk. The boy also pointed to a large bump on his elbow that appeared to be an untreated arm fracture, Guerra said.
Detectives said Ballard could not answer basic questions, such as when the boy had last attended school and could not provide a copy of his birth certificate. They also noticed strange whispering between Ballard and the boy, who became visibly anxious when he was taken away from his father.
"Instinctively, the detectives knew something was wrong, something was amiss there, " said Col. John Doran, chief of detectives at the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office.
The boy, whom authorities did not identify, is being treated for the foot and arm injuries at an area hospital. The Sheriff's Office would not disclose the boy's location, but said child protection officials with the state Department of Social Services are involved.
Sheriff's Office officials said neither Ballard nor the boy has disclosed much information, and that the boy did not allege any abuse when detectives talked with him Wednesday. Ballard did lead detectives to the boy's mother, who lives in Arizona and confirmed that Ballard was the father.
At this point, detectives know that the boy has been with Ballard in the New Orleans area since just before Hurricane Katrina, in summer 2005. The two had only been in St. Bernard Parish for about a month, authorities said.
Charles Fanz, the owner of the mobile home park, said he filed for eviction with the local justice of the peace just weeks after Ballard moved in, but he would not say why. Fanz only rented the land in the park to Ballard, not the RV. On Thursday there were numerous tools strewn about and four vehicles parked in front of the RV, two without license plates. Residents of the trailer park said they rarely saw the boy out of the trailer, and that Ballard didn't talk much to neighbors.
Detectives have not yet found a birth certificate or any legal custody documents. According to Doran, the boy lived with Ballard and his mother in Ohio before 2002, when the couple split. Ballard then moved to the New Orleans area, and the mother moved to Arizona with the boy.
In the summer of 2005, the mother, whose name the Sheriff's Office would not release, put the boy on a plane to New Orleans to be with Ballard. Since then, detectives said the mother said she has tried on and off to locate the boy, even calling some law enforcement agencies, but has been unable to track him down because she never knew an exact location.
She had spoken with the boy on the phone from time to time, detectives said, but Ballard often tightly controlled what they discussed. If she asked too intrusive of a question, Ballard would hang up the phone, detectives said.
Doran said detectives are also looking for another man, believed to be Ballard's brother, who neighbors said also lived in the trailer.
"This goes much deeper than what we have right now on the surface, " Doran said.
Ballard is being held at the St. Bernard Parish Prison in lieu of $25,000 bail. If convicted of cruelty of a juvenile, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
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