Hepple Girl & Boy
Victim of Attachment Therapy Parenting
Valencia County, New Mexico
Escaped and Rescued June 2007 at ages 13 and 10
Note: The following account has been prepared from press reports, personal interviews, trial transcripts, and other public records.
On a day in early June, 2007, an emaciated 13-year-old girl waited until her father left for work and then used her teeth to loosen the ropes that bound her to a wooden post. She couldn't delay running away from her remote home in Valencia County, New Mexico, because she was growing very weak from hunger.
Authorities found her with feces and urine-soiled clothes and head lice. She weighed 96 pounds. At first, she lied about who she was out of fear of being sent back to her home.
Only three days after the girl fled, her parents, Matthew Hepple, 40, and Sarah Burton-Hepple, 33, left their house in Highland Meadows with their five other children and moved to a new address in Moriarty.
and Matthew Hepple
at their sentencing hearing
Eventually an horrific story of abuse emerged. The girl and her brother, 10, were often tied up, being fed bread and water -- if they were fed -- for as much as a week at a time. Sometimes they were handcuffed to a toilet. Experts confirmed that both children had wounds and scars consistent with the restraint they described.
The defense tried to prove that both children have Reactive Attachment Disorder, a condition that caused them to injure themselves and make outrageous, false charges against their parents.
The prosecution reported to the judge that the two children appeared to have PTSD because of how they were treated and objected to the judge's ruling that the children needed to testify in court with their parents present, which they did.
A defense witness, social worker Betsy Revard, testified that the boy and girl suffer Reactive Attachment Disorder, which she said is characterized by lying, manipulating and stealing. There was no report in the press on how the diagnosis was determined or when. Presumably Ms. Revard made the diagnosis herself.
The three oldest children, including the two that claimed to be abused, were Burton-Hepple's biological children; only the three youngest were the both the Hepples' biological children. All the children were in protective custody at the time of the trial.
On November 19, 2008, a jury took just hours to find the Hepples guilty of two counts of kidnapping and two counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse. They each face up to 54 years in prison time. Initially, they had been charged with more than 70 counts of child abuse, but most were thrown out because of problem with the prosecution's presentation to a grand jury.
Mr. Hepple had a prior conviction of first-degree sexual assault of a four-year-old girl in 1991 and served prison time until 1998.
- “Couple indicted on 72 counts of child abuse,” Valencia County News Bulletin, 7 Sep 2007.
- “Alleged abuse victims testify,” by Michael Paluska, KRQE, 12 Nov 2008.
- “Children testify they were tied up, not fed,” by Clara Garcia, Valencia County News-Bulletin, 15 Nov 2008.