September 30, 2016 - 10:16 AM
SALISBURY, N.C. - The skeletal remains of a North Carolina teenager missing since 2011 have been recovered in a rural South Carolina community after a tip from a person close to the case, a sheriff said.
The tip helped investigators find the body of Erica Parsons in Chesterfield County, South Carolina, on Tuesday, Sheriff Jay Brooks said. The site is about 80 miles south of the girl's former home in Salisbury, North Carolina, and near where her adoptive father's mother lived, the Charlotte Observer reported (http://bit.ly/2dsH9sp).
North Carolina medical examiners confirmed the remains are those of the teen, the Rowan County, North Carolina, sheriff's office said in a statement late Wednesday. They said a key tip to finding the body surfaced in August.
No one has been charged with the girl's disappearance or death, but a federal judge last year admonished her adoptive parents for inflicting years of abuse on the child last seen when she was 13.
Although the federal prison sentences that Sandy and Casey Parsons are serving stemmed from fraud the FBI uncovered as agents assisted in the search for Erica, it will be up to state officials to determine exactly how she died and whether criminal charges are warranted, Charlotte FBI Special Agent John Strong said in a statement Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder said when he sentenced her adoptive mother, Casey Parsons, to 10 years in prison for tax fraud that it was likely Erica was dead. Her husband, Sandy Parsons, received an eight-year sentence. The couple collected more than $12,000 in government benefits to help raise Erica even after she was no longer living with them.
"I cannot fathom the hatred you had in your heart for that little girl," Schroeder told Casey Parsons. "In my view, you are morally bankrupt."
Schroeder described Sandy Parsons, who had a fifth-grade education, as "a follower" of his wife's actions.
Erica lived with her adoptive parents in Rowan County from 2000 until she disappeared in 2011 at age 13. She wasn't reported missing until 2013.
Her adoptive parents said they gave Erica to her biological father's mother in Asheville, but the woman was never found. Casey and Sandy Parsons appeared on the nationally syndicated "Dr. Phil" show in 2013 to explain Erica's disappearance and deny harming the girl.
But a pre-sentencing report submitted as part of their federal case focused on testimony describing in graphic detail the abuse the girl endured before her disappearance. That included being fed dog food or no food at all and being excluded from family activities.
The Parsons' 21-year-old biological son, James Parsons, testified last year that he and other children in the family routinely abused Erica. Parsons said he abused the girl from the time he was age 5 until he was 16, once breaking her arm, before deciding he would no longer hit the girl. Food was often withheld from her as punishment, he said.
Casey Parsons encouraged the other children to abuse Erica, and he saw his mother often beat her, James Parsons said.
"She would beat her with a belt if she didn't listen," James Parsons said. Sandy Parsons would hit Erica with his fist on top of her head," James Parsons said.
Investigators who searched the Parsons home in August 2013 found traces of Erica's blood and either saliva or urine inside a closet, FBI agent Tara Cataldo testified in 2015.
Investigators plan to discuss the case further at a news conference next week, Rowan County deputies said.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016