Florida Teacher Accused of Keeping 12-Year-Old Boy Locked Up in Her Home with Just a Bucket for a Toilet

Denise Elaine Hallowell, 54, was arrested on Monday after the boy escaped from her Inverness, Florida, home

Photo: Citrus County Sheriff's Office

A Florida teacher faces charges of aggravated child abuse for allegedly keeping a 12-year-old boy locked up in her home, a sheriff’s office spokesman tells PEOPLE.

Denise Elaine Hallowell, 54, was arrested on Monday after the boy escaped from her Inverness, Florida, home over the weekend. She reported him missing, but when detectives located the child, he told officials of the alleged abuse he’d endured and he was ultimately taken into protective custody. (Authorities would not comment on Hallowell’s relationship to the boy.)

What looked like a typical runaway case – turned into a horrible child abuse case,” Captain Dave DeCarlo said in a statement posted to Facebook. “We are just so thankful that this boy trusted us enough to come forward about what was going on inside his home.”

Capt. DeCarlo tells PEOPLE that the boy said that Hallowell kept him locked in a room that “consisted of a cot with an air mattress and a bucket to use as a toilet.” She also allegedly nailed the boy’s windows shut and obscured them so that he could not look out.

“He was without food or water for days at a time and only allowed to come out of his room to do chores, which Hallowell made him do naked,” the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “He was allegedly repeatedly beaten by Hallowell, even in the groin area.”

Another boy allegedly lived in the home as well, but he had a fully furnished room, complete with a computer, posters and various electronics, DeCarlo says. (Authorities would not comment on Hallowell’s relationship to this boy, either.)

In an interview with detectives, Hallowell denied ever making the boy do chores naked or beating him in the groin, according to DeCarlo. She allegedly admitted to spanking him and nailing his windows shut so he would not run away again, but she called the boy’s locked door a “mistake.” This was the second time the boy had tried to escape the home, DeCarlo says.

The other boy in the home told investigators that he had held the boy down before while Hallowell physically disciplined him, according to DeCarlo. She denied having the other boy participate in the first boy’s punishment.

Hallowell is being held without bail on charges of child abuse without causing great bodily harm and aggravated child abuse. It is unknown whether she has entered a plea to the charges against her.

The case is still being investigated, DeCarlo says.

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