In June 1993, 16-year-old Louann Bowers was reported missing from her home in East Berlin, Pa. Her family declared Bowers legally dead in 2004, not knowing that she was in fact alive and raising a secret family of five children in York, Pa., with her uncle by marriage, Sinhue Johnson.
Now Bowers and Johnson face child-endangerment charges for hiding away their kids, ages 2 to 13, in squalor. They adhered to a faith related to Islam, with Bowers showing her face only to Johnson, according to her attorney. Now living in foster homes, some of the children suffer from vision and other health conditions, including possible mental health problems. None perform at their expected education levels.
They lived outside society, hidden from the world in a squalid row house with no heat, electricity or running water. They had no birth certificates, no schooling, no immunizations or evidence of medical care — nothing whatsoever to prove their existence.
Police in this south-central Pennsylvania city are still piecing together how the parents of five children — ranging in age from 2 to 13 — managed to conceal them for so many years. And why.
"I don't know what would possess them at all," said detective Dana Ward Jr., who tracked down the children after a child welfare agency received an anonymous tip about the clandestine family.
Ward charged Louann Bowers, 33, and Sinhue Johnson, 45, with five felony counts of child endangerment. They are scheduled to be in court Friday, though Bowers' lawyer said she will waive her right to an arraignment. Both are locked up in York County Prison.
Bowers ran away from "a very chaotic household" when she was 16 and "didn't want to be found," attorney Ronald Gross said.
Louann Bowers and Sinhue Johnson
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editorial consultant. Follow her on Twitter.