06/16/13 — Couple accused of abuse

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Couple accused of abuse

By John Joyce and Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 16, 2013 1:50 AM

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Erin James Pickel

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Jennifer Kay Pickel

An Air Force officer assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base was arrested along with his wife Friday on charges of child abuse and neglect.

Erin James Pickel, 44, and Jennifer Kay Pickel, 43, both of 527 Forest Hills Drive -- the adoptive parents of a 15-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl -- face five counts of intentional child abuse and another five counts of felony child neglect each.

Investigators say the alleged offenses spanned at least three years.

A Goldsboro Police Department arrest sheet for Erin Pickel lists his employer as "SJAFB," and his occupation as "Air Force Officer." No occupation was listed for his wife.

The charges stem from an investigation that dates back to 2008, according to a Goldsboro Police Department press release. The arrest warrants, however, list the dates of the offenses as May 1, 2010, through May 28, 2013.

The warrants also detailed some of the abuse allegations -- including that both children were repeatedly assaulted resulting in "serious physical injury, bleeding lacerations and bruises to the arms and buttocks."

Investigators also reported in the warrants that the children were forced to remain outside "in a playhouse" without provisions or proper clothing, heat or electricity, and with "reckless disregard for human life."

But not every question was answered by the documents retrieved late Friday afternoon.

Neither the press release nor the arrest warrants indicated whether the adopted children were related or whose protection the children are under now.

And while the press release identifies the Wayne County Department of Social Services, the TEDI Bear Children's Advocacy Center and U.S. Air Force Security Forces Investigations as assisting in the investigation, just how the couple are affiliated with Seymour Johnson AFB remained in question until copies of the arrest sheets on both Pickels were obtained Saturday.

Members of the 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office said they are unable, at this time, to go into detail about the wing's connection to the case, but did issue a statement on behalf of their commander, Col. Jeannie Leavitt.

"The 4th Fighter Wing fully supports the efforts of the Goldsboro Police Department regarding these allegations," Leavitt's statement read. "Child abuse is absolutely unacceptable. Airmen of the 4th Fighter Wing are held to the highest standards and are expected to uphold those standards at all times, on and off duty. Our unwavering commitment and service to this great nation will continue throughout these trying times. We recognize the accused are innocent until proven guilty."

Both parents were placed in Wayne County Jail, each under a $25,000 secured bond, with first appearances scheduled for Monday.

Several requests for comment from the GPD went answered, but an e-mail sent by one of the investigators Friday evening stated "the abuse was both physical and mental, and the investigation is ongoing."