NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – Nassau County deputies tracking suspects Saturday after the latest of a string of break-ins in the Nassauville area came upon a home with screaming children inside. Getting no response to repeated knocks at the back door and fearing for the welfare of children inside, the deputies opened the door.
Inside, deputies said they found two unattended young children, 5 and 16 months old, crying in the living room. One was lying on a bouncer on a couch and the second child was in a playpen with several roaches crawling around him, according to the Nassau County Sheriff's Office.
A man inside said he had no idea that the kids were there because he told deputies he was “passed out drunk." The man said the children belonged to "Randi," according to deputies.
To calm down the crying children, deputies said they attempted to locate some baby formula or juice to make them bottles to drink. They found some in a diaper bag, but said there were also live and dead cockroaches inside the bag.
After getting the children something to drink and taking them outside to care for them, the Department of Children and Families was called to the home. A news release from the Sheriff's Office said both children had multiple bite marks and were checked out by Nassau County Fire-Rescue before DCF took custody of the children. A man who claimed to be the children's father told News4Jax that the children have since been placed with their grandmother.
Deputies searching what they described as a "filthy" home with garbage everywhere, a toilet that appeared to not be working and no air conditioning, ended up finding the two teenage burglary suspects who brought them to the neighborhood. The Sheriff's Office said they were found hiding in a closet under piles of clothes.
Jory Meredith, 17, and Shawn Scott, 15, admitted to committing several burglaries in the area and provided the location of some of the stolen property, according to the Sheriff's Office. Deputies recovered some of the property.
The Sheriff's Office said Meredith was a runaway from Wolf Lake, Indiana.
Deputies said the two teens were suspects in at least four burglaries:
June 18: Laptops, computer monitors, keys, an adding machine, a flat-screen TV and projector was stolen from Springhill Baptist Church. The Sheriff's Office said the thieves entered an unlocked door.
June 27: There was an armed burglary of a home on Springhill Road, where the back door had been pried open and a 9 mm handgun was stolen.
July 7: The back door of a home on Santa Juana had been kicked in and several items were stolen, including two PlayStation 4 gaming consoles and controllers, the victim’s military ID card and two laptop computers.
Saturday: Deputies met a man who said he had just confronted the two juveniles he believed broke into his home on Santa Juana Road near Springhill Road on July 7. The victim said the older boy pulled out a black gun from his waistband, pointed it at him and said, “I will blow your brains out," according to the Sheriff's Office. Deputies said the gun was later found behind an air conditioner.
Later on Saturday day, a deputy saw suspects who matched the description the victim gave in front of a home on Petunia Court and then disappear. The search for them led to the home of the crying babies.
The mother of the babies, Randi Brooke Christner, came walking up to the residence as the deputies were there and was questioned about the condition of the children. She stated that she left her kids with the man inside the house and went down the street to another residence. Due to the failure of Christner, 24, to provide proper supervision of the children, failure to maintain the children’s physical well-being and the conditions which she left the children in, she was arrested and charged with child neglect, according to the Sheriff's Office.
News4Jax met the man who claimed to be the children's father at the home on Monday.
"There shouldn’t be any concern," he said. "My old lady is a very good mother.”
He also commented on the actions of the deputies.
“They carried my kids out there with no clothes on, except for their diapers. Then they sat there and tried to say their diapers were dirty," the man said. "They were not left unattended because they had everybody in this household.”
The man also said Scott is his younger brother.