Sudden movements or noises, like the sound of a shutting door, make the 5-year-old boy jump.
Family members say the severely malnourished child sleeps with a furrowed brow, as if he cannot relax.
He still eats every bite of food with some trepidation.
"He stays on guard," said his maternal grandfather, Windell Hall.
Authorities on Friday discovered the boy — who weighed 29 pounds — in an Humble motel room with abrasions and bruises on his back. He was wearing a soiled diaper.
His father and stepmother are accused of intentionally starving him. An older brother told Harris County Precinct 4 deputy constables that the boy was being forced to live in a closet under a stairway in the couple's Spring home.
Now recovering in a hospital, the boy is being nourished slowly with three 100-calorie meals a day, family members said Tuesday. Over the course of just a few days, he's shown significant progress. He's becoming more talkative with relatives and has done a little walking — something he could not do when he arrived.
"When I first saw him, he looked like death," Hall, 52, told the Houston Chronicle. "He's doing much better now."
The boy's father, 24-year-old Bradley Bleimeyer, and stepmother, Tami Bleimeyer, 33, were arrested Saturday and charged with child endangerment. A criminal complaint accuses them of conduct that placed the child "in imminent danger of physical impairment, namely, by failing to provide food." Authorities said a preliminary report from a doctor could lead to more serious charges, potentially felony injury to a child.
Frank Mann, an attorney for the boy's biological mother, said his client had been kept from her son by Bradley Bleimeyer for more than two years. Windy Hall was reunited with her son early Saturday morning after receiving a phone call from authorities.
"Blessed I have my child back," the 26-year-old mother said tearfully outside a courtroom on Tuesday. "Mortified by the condition in which I got him back."
Harris County Family Court Judge James Lombardino determined that Windy Hall could continue to see her son until a previously scheduled temporary custody hearing involving Bradley Bleimeyer takes place on April 21, Mann said. Child Protective Services also will become a party in the case.
Windy Hall said she and her relatives have made numerous attempts over the years to get her son back, but were told there was little authorities could do because she and the boy's father did not have a court-ordered custody agreement. Hall also said she reached out to CPS.
On March 26 — prior to authorities locating the boy in his emaciated state — Mann said Windy Hall retained him in order to seek custody.
At some point this year, Mann said, Windy Hall submitted to a CPS-requested drug test after she admitted to occasionally smoking marijuana. While the results were positive, Mann said that Windy Hall has agreed to undergo further tests to show that she is not actively using the drug because she is determined to gain custody of her son. The lawyer added that he will be filing a petition to terminate Bradley Bleimeyer's rights to the boy. CPS spokeswoman Estella Olguin confirmed Tuesday that the father has a history with the agency.
The child was not in poor health on Feb. 20 when CPS officials visited, interviewed and photographed him, Olguin has said. When case workers sought to further investigate abuse and neglect allegations, Bradley and Tami Bleimeyer retained an attorney and refused to cooperate further, Olguin said Monday.
Messages left Monday and Tuesday for the parents' family lawyer, who was identified by Olguin as Julie Ketterman, were not returned.
The starving child was discovered after law enforcement intervened on Thursday while responding to a disturbance call at a home in the 21500 block of Castlemont Lane. When deputies arrived, they saw a 16-year-old boy and a man later identified as Bradley Bleimeyer fighting in the front yard, according to Assistant Chief Deputy Mark Herman with the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office.
Deputies were informed that the younger child's stepmother, later identified as Tami Bleimeyer, had left with the 5-year-old.
Believing the youngster to be in danger, deputies searched for the stepmother and the child. Both were discovered Friday at the Humble motel when deputies spotted Bradley Bleimeyer leaving a room, Herman said.
Deputies are familiar with the Bleimeyer residence because of previous disturbance calls "but nothing that led us into the house," Herman added.
CPS officials said that Tami Bleimeyer has six children — the 16-year-old boy who was fighting with Bradley Bleimeyer as well as youngsters ages 14, 13, 7, another 5-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl.
A judge granted emergency custody of those children to CPS on Tuesday, Olguin said. Social workers and law enforcement found and retrieved those youngsters from relatives following the court ruling.
The 1-year-old was headed to a foster home on Tuesday night, and the other five were sent to a children's shelter "so that they can at least be together," Olguin said. "On Wednesday, all six children will be interviewed to see what they can tell us about what was happening in the home and also to have medical exams."
Tami Bleimeyer, who was released Sunday on $2,000 bail, also has a history with CPS. She had been investigated "before she and Bradley got together," Olguin said.
Bradley Bleimeyer remains in the Harris County jail in lieu of $150,000 bail. Saturday's arrest was his third in Harris County in as many months, court records show. In mid-January, he was charged with misdemeanor theft of a battery. In early February, he was charged with burglary of a habitation, a felony.
Windy Hall described what happened to her son as horrific. She and her parents are now focused on making sure he is once again a happy, healthy boy.
"He knows he's safe now," Windell Hall said. "He knows he's around people who love him and care for him."