A man in Arkansas has been arrested and charged with false imprisonment and other offences after allegedly hiding his five-year-old daughter in a secret compartment that was nailed shut inside his closet.
Jon Thompson, 40, of Tontitown, Ark., was arrested Friday after state officials tried to take custody of the girl.
When police and officials with the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) showed up at his house on Nov. 1, Thompson repeatedly said the child was not there and refused to let authorities enter the home.
Thompson produced paperwork indicating he was awarded custody of the child, though officers presented him with documents of their own showing the state had been granted an order of custody, NBC News reported. Police reports did not elaborate on why the girl was ordered to be taken into state care.
Eventually, more officers arrived at the home and Thompson allowed them to come inside.
Body camera footage from inside the home was released by Tontitown police, showing a man in overalls and a backwards cap kneeling inside a closet, moving objects and apparently struggling to remove the nailed-in door of the hiding spot.
After about 20 seconds, the child emerges from the back of the closet and voices can be heard saying, “Hey, sweetie.”
A photo released by police shows a dark opening at the back of the closet where the girl was allegedly hidden away, as well as the whiteboard used to conceal the secret compartment. Exposed, pink building insulation can be seen inside the hiding spot.
According to an incident report, the man “moved some boxes and then had to pull a board that was nailed to the wall to get access to a small space behind the closet wall.”
“Jon admitted to concealing … inside the compartment so DHS would not take custody,” it added.
Police described the compartment as a “triangle-shaped void … possibly six to eight feet wide, going down to two to four feet wide,” according to local broadcaster WFAA.
The girl was kept in the confined space for about an hour, with a candle burning and open insulation around her, a police spokesperson told local ABC News affiliate 4029TV. The child was taken into custody by the DHS and her father was arrested two days after she was rescued from the home.
Thompson was booked on charges of endangering the welfare of a minor, first-degree false imprisonment, interference with custody, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of body armour, according to the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Thompson was released Sunday after posting a US$5,000 bond. His next expected court day is Dec. 4.
In a phone interview with CNN, Thompson said: “For the record — I love my daughter.” He asked that all further questions be directed to his lawyer.
In a police interview with the girl, two days after she was removed from the home, the child said she was “afraid to go inside the hole in the wall but that her dad wanted her to do so and told her if she did not go inside she would be taken away from him.”
“When asked if she could get out of the hole in the wall the child shook her head no and stated she was told if she talked or made noise she would not get to see him (her father),” the report adds.