Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Mother of allegedly neglected boy is on leave from church nursery job

By Daniel Chacon Published: May 17, 2013

The mother of a 13-year-old boy who police say was living in a home littered with human feces has been placed on administrative leave from her part-time job at a church nursery.

Sharon Starkey, who was cited Thursday for child neglect along with her husband, former Colorado Springs Councilman Charles Wingate, worked at the First United Methodist Church of Colorado Springs nursery on a "very part-time" and "as needed" basis, Leanne Schreiner, director of administration and finance, said in a statement.

"We'll be praying for her and her family and providing support as best we can," Schreiner said Friday in a brief telephone interview with The Gazette.

Starkey, described by Schreiner as a "responsible, reliable employee" and a long-time member of the church, works full-time at another childcare facility, Schreiner said in the statement. Schreiner said she didn't know the name of the facility.

"As is our policy, Sharon has been given thorough background checks which provided no indication of concern," Schreiner said in the statement.

"In addition, First United Methodist Church practices the guidelines of the 'Safe Sanctuary's Policy' of the United Methodist Church. Among many safeguard measures to provide a safe environment for children, this policy mandates that a minimum of two adults are in the children's presence at all times."

Liz McDonough, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, said Starkey isn't required to be licensed to work in a childcare center.

"If she's employed by a childcare center, all she would've had to do is pass a background check" by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she said.

McDonough said anyone convicted of child abuse or neglect cannot work in a licensed childcare facility. The department has a system to notify the owner of a licensed childcare facility if their employee is in the childcare licensing system, she said. The owner is then responsible for letting the employee go if the employee is found guilty, she said.

McDonough also couldn't say what childcare facility Starkey worked at full-time.

"I thought I was going to be able to search the childcare licensing system database, but there's like 80,000 names in there, and it's not really searchable," she said.

Colorado Springs police say they went to Starkey and Wingate's home in the 6100 block of Corinth Drive just after noon Thursday after a neighbor reported not seeing their son in about a year.

Police found the boy naked and alone in what they described as filthy conditions.

"The home was extremely unsanitary with live and dead rodents and human feces about," police said.

"The boy stated he is an only child, home-schooled, and does not remember ever being outside the house. Neighbors confirmed they have not seen the boy outside in several years," police said.

Colorado Springs code enforcement condemned the house as unsafe for living, and the boy was placed in the custody of the Department of Human Services, police said.

In an interview Thursday night, Wingate disputed the allegations of neglect and the police description of his home.

The Department of Human Services has legal custody of the boy, Colorado Springs police spokesman Larry Herbert said Friday.

Herbert also said detectives are continuing to investigate "both the home and the family."

"Once the investigation is complete, we will present it to the District Attorney's Office, and they'll make the final charges," he said. "Currently, they've been charged with one count each of misdemeanor child abuse and then depending on the outcome of the investigation, those could be amended or they may remain the same."

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Contact Daniel ChacOn: 476-1623 Twitter @danieljchacon Facebook Daniel Chacon

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