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John Eckhart during his court appearance last week. Associated PressAP
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Mother "shocked" to learn sons had been kept caged by their father

US woman says she had no idea the sons she hadn’t seen in a year were being kept caged in a darkened room by their dad.

AN AMERICAN mother has said she was shocked to learn that the father of her two autistic sons has been accused of mistreating the boys by locking them in a darkened room.

Oregon woman Jona Bronson said she’ll try to regain custody of the boys she left with John Eckhart, who appeared in court last week along with his current girlfriend on charges of unlawful imprisonment and mistreatment.

Eckhart is quoted in the police report as saying: “What am I supposed to do? Let them run around the house?..They’re autistic.”

Police said the boys – ages 5 and 7 – were found last Tuesday in a Vancouver, Washington, apartment in a room whose door had been replaced by a makeshift, slatted barrier.

When Officer Missy Skeeter showed up, one of the boys stuck a hand between the slats, police said.

Eckhart and his girlfriend Alayna Higdon, 26, are due back in court in late April. Lawyers for the two have not commented.

A police report quoted by The Oregonian newspaper said the boys were in diapers, smelling of urine, and they could only moan, not talk. They appeared to share a mattress in a room with one window covered by a gate and a blanket, it said. The rest of the apartment was cluttered and dirty, with little food.

Bronson said when her relationship with her former partner broke up, she left the boys with their father because she didn’t want to interrupt their schooling.

She saw the boys recently for the first time in a year, but got no hint of how they were being mistreated. “Their hair was dirty, that’s all,” she said.

- Additional reporting by AP

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