LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A retired LAPD sergeant has helped authorities uncover a bizarre case of child abuse out of Georgia and subsequently rescued two young girls out of a horrific living situation.
A Georgia couple – Paul Matthew Comer, 48, and his wife Sheila Marie Comer – have been arrested on charges of child abuse and false imprisonment, Los Angeles police officials said. Their son, 18-year-old Mitch Comer, triggered the investigation when he arrived in Los Angeles on a bus, appearing gaunt and malnourished.
On Sept. 11, Los Angeles police officers were called out to the Greyhound Bus Station on East 7th Street, where retired LAPD Sergeant Joe Gonzalez, who was working as a security guard, alerted them to Comer, officials said.
Comer was described as a pale, gaunt young man of small stature who appeared to be just 12 or 13 years old. It was later determined that Comer weighed 87 pounds and stood just over 5 feet tall.
The teen told police that his stepfather had told him he was now a man, gave him $200 and put him on a bus in Jackson, Miss., with a list of homeless shelters he had found online.
Comer told Detective Gan Gersna that he had been removed from school in the eighth grade by his stepfather, later identified as Paul Comer, who allegedly confined him to a room and wouldn’t allow him to leave.
Police say that Comer was fed only small quantities of food daily and was forced to assume a disciplinary position every day for eight hours: with the top of his head against a wall, his fingers interlaced behind his head and his feet raised off the ground. Comer endured this for at least the past four years, police said.
Comer could not recall his Georgia address, but Gersna was able to track it down through the elder Comer’s home-based appliance business, known as “Appliance Support Team.”
LAPD detectives contacted the Paulding County Sheriff’s Department, whose detectives immediately went to the address and took the elder Comer and the teen’s mother, Sheila Comer, into custody. Mitch Comer’s younger sisters, Catrina and Lya, were placed in the protective custody of Paulding County Children’s Services.
“I am greatly relieved and thankful that one of our retired officers brought this victim to our attention and started the process to uncover these heartbreaking circumstances,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement. “Without the intervention of retired Sergeant Gonzales, Mitch Comer and his young sisters would still be suffering.”
Mitch Comer was briefly housed at a Los Angeles board and care home. Police say he flew back home to Dallas, Ga., Wednesday to participate in the investigation against his parents.
CBS2 and KCAL9 reporter Jeff Nguyen spoke to Alta Loma neighbors who have known the retired LAPD officer Gonzalez for years.
Andy Hiben has known Gonzalez for 15 years. “The way I see it, once a Marine, always a Marine,” says Hiben, “He always looks out for everybody. He’s retired LAPD but he always has that eye.”
Other neighbors told Nguyen that Gonzalez has not been home for days and he is something of a reluctant hero. They told Nguyen the odds of him getting an interview with Gonzalez would be “pretty slim.”
“Joe is a very proud individual,” says Hiben, “In his eyes, he probably felt that he did what anybody else would have done at that time.”