At first glance, authorities saw what they thought was an abandoned trailer and a large plywood box amid a sea of trash in Joshua Tree, Calif. On second glance, they realized this was the shelter of three children, ages 11, 13, and 14, and their parents. Mona Kirk, 51, and Daniel Panico, 73, were charged with willful cruelty to a child Wednesday after authorities came upon the remote property without running water, electricity, plumbing, or heating, reports the Los Angeles Times. According to officials, the family had been staying at the desert property for four years, with Kirk and the children living in the box—about 20 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 4 feet high—and Panico living in the trailer or a vehicle, reports the San Bernardino Sun.
Panico reportedly owned the property and planned to build his dream home there, a neighbor tells the Desert Sun. But the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department called it "an unsuitable and unsafe environment" for the children, who didn't have an adequate amount of food. Authorities say the area, roamed by 30 to 40 cats, featured several feces-filled holes apparently used as toilets, and a rep for the sheriff's department says the kids weathered nights as cold as 20 or 30 degrees. Kirk and Panico are now in jail with bail set at $100,000 each. Their children, who weren't enrolled in public school, are in the custody of Children and Family Services and are in "good spirits," per officials. (Read more California stories.)