ASHLAND, Ohio - Ashland residents and an attorney who represented an alleged "slavery" victim are stunned over a federal investigation that has gained national attention.
"I think it's disgusting how people treat each other. This planet has gone to crap," said resident Yolanda Lucas.
Federal agents said three people held a cognitively disabled woman and her child against her will for two years and forced her to perform manual labor for them inside an apartment.
The conspiracy included beating Shannon Eckley and her 5-year-old child, threatening them with large snakes, forcing them to sleep in a padlocked room with a large iguana and other actions, according to charges filed in the U.S. District Court.
Jordie L. Callahan, 26, Jessica Hunt, 31, and Daniel Brown, 33, were all arrested Tuesday and charged with forced labor. Callahan is charged with an additional count of tampering with a witness.
"These defendants violated the victim's most basic civil right, freedom, by exploiting her most basic instinct, the protection of her child," said Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of Cleveland FBI office. "The FBI continues to aggressively pursue and bring to justice those individuals who abuse and harm members of our community."
Scott Beck is a friend of Eckley's family, but hasn't talked with her about the alleged captivity.
"I was pretty shocked. I didn't think that would be going on in our community," Beck said on Wednesday.
Federal agents also claim that Callahan forced Eckley to hit her daughter while he recorded the beating on a cellphone. Investigators contend Callahan used the video as leverage and told Eckley that her daughter would be taken away if she "messed up" and told police about the living conditions.
About a year later, Eckley was arrested for stealing a candy bar from a store. She told police she was living with Callahan and Hunt and that they "were mean to her."
An Ashland officer went to the apartment and he was shown the mobile phone video. Eckley was eventually charged and convicted of child endangering.
Attorney Matt Malone represented Eckley for the candy theft and said has "a very sweet demeanor", but functions at a very low level cognitively.
Malone said Eckley was found guilty for stealing the chocolate bar, but never mentioned to him that she was being held hostage.
"There was nothing I got from her that would indicate she was going through anything like that," Malone said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Callahan and Hunt recruited the woman and her child to live with them in their two-bedroom apartment in on West Main Street in Ashland, where Hunt's four sons -- all under the age of 18 -- also lived.
The court filing alleges both Callahan and Hunt beat the woman and her child, threatened to kill them and denied them food.
The victims were initially forced to sleep on a concrete floor in the basement with no mattress, but they were eventually moved to a room upstairs, investigators said. The child wasn't allowed to leave the room, and it was padlocked at night to keep the woman and her child from escaping.
Investigators said the suspects slammed the woman's hand with a rock, hurt her back and kicked her in the hip on separate occasions in order to get pain medications that she was forced to turn over to Callahan and Hunt.
"We are yet again reminded that modern-day slavery exists all around us," said Steven M. Dettlebach, United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. "One of our nation's core values is freedom, yet this woman and her child were denied freedom for two years. The victims in this case endured violence, threats, sub-human living conditions and horrific acts."
"The streets are a lot safer with these folks locked up," Ashland Police Chief David Marcelli said. "Cooperation with the FBI and US Attorney's Office was key to the successful arrest of these individual."