Breaking News
More () »

'Similarities are horribly striking': Nightmare for abused Houston twins began in Baton Rouge

A neighbor in Louisiana said she could sense trouble behind the small fence that separated their yards. She recalled what she now considers cries for help.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Warning: Contains graphic content

KHOU 11 Investigates is learning more about the twins in Cypress who described horrific abuse last week when they ran away from home looking for help. They told the woman who helped them that they were beaten, burned, forced to drink bleach and urine and eat feces.

Court records showed their nightmare started in Baton Rouge, where the twins and four siblings were briefly put into foster care a decade ago.

It's the same city where their mother, Zaikiya Duncan and stepfather Jova Terrell, are behind bars waiting to be brought back to Houston for allegedly abusing the children.

RELATED: Court documents: Cypress twins say they were forced to drink bleach, burned, beaten with curtain rods

Ring doorbell videos showed the horror the 16-year-old twins suffered. The abuse started long before they moved to Texas.

Neighbor Sonya Jancan remembered what she now considers cries for help.

“My mom came over one day and she said, 'Oh, the little girl next door asked me for some crackers.' I was like, 'OK, well, that's kind of weird. Like, did you give it to her?' She's like, 'Yeah, I did.' And then she came back a few days later and asked for it again. And, I was just like, maybe the mom wasn't home. Maybe she was hungry,” Jancan said.

Jancan said she could sense trouble behind the small fence that separated their yards.

RELATED: Woman accused of abusing her children long before Tuesday's AMBER Alert

“I remember one day I was washing dishes and she was out washing the windows and I went outside and was like, 'Hey, how are you doing?' She went inside and closed the door. I noticed she did have scarring on her arms,” Jancan said.

Louisiana court documents described the abuse.

In 2010, police were called to investigate large bruises and scabs on one of the then-3-year-old’s buttocks. Duncan said it was from a belt spanking and no charges were filed.

Then, in 2012, Duncan was arrested after a school employee noticed one of the twins was having trouble sitting. Medical workers discovered burns and bruises on his body. Investigators later found scars and bruises on his twin sister.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said the Department of Children and Family Services stepped in.

“Not only did they take those two children -- who were in school -- to the hospital to be evaluated, they also found all the other children and took them. All of the children, I believe, were found with different stages of injury,” Moore said.

Duncan was charged with felony cruelty to a juvenile. While that case was open, the six children were returned to Duncan and their father a year later and Duncan got full custody in 2018. According to East Baton Rouge Parish court records, Duncan did not plead in the criminal case until 2019, seven years later.

DA Moore said abuse cases do not typically take that long to go through the legal system.

“This was an unusual case. In this case, our focus was on children, initially, and then move toward the justice side of the parents, but we wanted to make sure that the children were back to healthy and normal again,” Moore said.

Duncan pleaded guilty to child desertion, got one year of probation and had to take a parenting class.

Duncan divorced the children’s father that same year and married Jova Terrell. The newlyweds moved to Harris County this summer, where they are facing charges in this latest case of child cruelty.

“The similarities are horribly striking. Houston needs to know what we know and what we have, and we need to know what Houston knows and has, and further work has to be done,” Moore said.

Moore said he's unsure if Louisiana authorities could have done something more to protect the children while they were in Baton Rouge.

“It's always easy to look back in hindsight. So, I think at the time, when we made the decisions we made, based on what they did after their arrest, it was the proper decision. But now looking back, had I been able to know what was going to happen again, in the future, and the behavior would be repeated, I would have taken a different action,” Moore said.

Duncan and Terrell will eventually be taken from Baton Rouge to Harris County.

All seven children were placed in DCFS custody.

We asked the Louisiana DCFS for an interview. They declined.

Before You Leave, Check This Out