SPLENDORA, Texas - For two children found living on a broken-down bus in Montgomery County, life has drastically changed from how they lived just a month earlier.
The 11-year-old girl and her 5-year-old brother were placed in Children's Protective Services' custody on March 7. Montgomery County Precinct 4 deputy constables called CPS after they found the children alone on the bus near Splendora.
The children's aunt, 60-year-old Hazel Burts, was appointed temporary guardian of them because the children's parents are serving time in federal prison. However, Burts worked 12-hour job shifts away from the home.
One month later, questions still linger in the small town that never knew the scene playing out in their back yard.
"This doesn't make any sense that it was going on for this long," said Amanda Duquette, a Splendora resident. "How did they not get noticed through the system?"
One easy answer is much of the "system" had no way of knowing their situation. The 11-year-old girl, said Burts, was home-schooling her and her brother. Since the two were never enrolled in school, the school district had no reason to check on them.
Local 2 Investigates first reported in March that there had been several 911 calls from the home in prior months. All of the calls were made by the boy when the aunt was present. Montgomery County deputy constables determined the calls were more related to disputes over discipline than any abuse. Officers did not notify CPS until March.
Burts has not been charged with any crime. She was not granted temporary custody at a hearing on March 19.
The children are living with a foster family and are enrolled in school. CPS officials said the 11-year-old girl is a good student and said the 5-year-old boy's wish for his birthday was dinner at Golden Corral.
CPS spokeswoman Gwen Carter said the children talk on the phone with their mom, Sherrie Shorten, in prison every night.
There is another custody hearing for the children set for May 2. Prison officials in Louisiana said Shorten has not been released, even though the federal inmate locator system said her projected release date was April 5.
Carter said Shorten would have to show proper living arrangements and begin paperwork before the hearing to be considered for custody.
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