North Texas mom charged with neglecting 5 kids; 1 near death

A Texas mother is accused of abandoning her five children after police found them starving, filthy and, in the case of a baby, near death while her 8-year-old son was left in charge of his siblings.

Police went to the home Friday after teachers in Bowie reported the boy had missed several days of class. Officers found the 8-year-old, girls ages 4 and 2, a 17-month-old boy and a 3-month-old boy, Bowie police Lt. Rick Beckham said. The two smallest children wore soiled diapers that they appeared to have been wearing for days, causing a diaper rash so severe one child was bleeding, he said. The infant weighed just 7 pounds, he said.

Three children were being treated for malnutrition. "The ER doctor said the baby was malnourished to the point it may not have survived a few more days without food," Beckham told the Bowie News.

All five have been placed in foster care, said Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.

"The house was completely filthy and in total disarray. There was garbage and human waste all over the house. You could literally smell the house from the street," Beckham said.

The children's mother, Jessica Petroni, arrived while police were still at the house, telling officers she had been at a doctor's appointment. The mother was booked into Montague County Jail and was being held Wednesday on five counts of abandoning/endangering a child-criminal negligence. Each count is punishable, upon conviction, by up to two years in jail. Records do not list an attorney for Petroni to comment on her behalf. Her bond is set at $50,000.

Beckham said the children's father has been gone about two weeks for a job in Collin County, where they were supposed to be moving. He said the children indicated to police that their mother "leaving them alone is a normal thing."

The family had been the subject of child-welfare investigations previously while living in Wylie in Collin County, 35 miles northeast of Dallas, Beckham said.

"The oldest boy said he was embarrassed by how the house looked. No child says that. The 2-year-old girl held out her hands to me and called me 'Papa,'" Beckham said.