Retired Los Angeles police Sgt. Joe Gonzalez was working security at a downtown bus station Sept. 11 when he spotted Mitch Comer, who stood just over 5 feet tall, weighed 87 pounds and looked much younger, LAPD said in a news release Thursday.
Comer told Gonzalez his stepfather declared that he was now a man before putting the teen on a bus.
Because he was so childlike, police worried that he wasn't as old as he claimed and decided to investigate further. The teen told authorities he had suffered years of abuse after being taken out of school in the eighth grade.
Confined to a room with little food, Comer said he had two younger sisters that he had almost never seen.
Authorities in Los Angeles contacted law enforcement in Georgia, where Paulding County sheriff's deputies had to track down Comer's stepfather, Paul Comer, and mother, Sheila Marie Comer, because the isolated teen didn't know his address.
After being interviewed, they were arrested on charges of child abuse and false imprisonment, the LAPD said.
Dion Walker and Mea Smith, who live next door to the family in Dallas, Ga., told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution their children had played with the Comers' daughters, but they had never seen Mitch Comer in the two years they were neighbors.
Reached by phone Thursday, Sheila Comer's mother, Diane Powell, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told the newspaper that she hasn't spoken to her daughter in more than a decade. She said she never met her granddaughters and she hasn't seen her grandson since he was a toddler.
"They mistreated him something terrible," she said. "I got on her case about it and she disappeared from my life."
Comer was flown back to Georgia this week to participate in the investigation and legal proceedings. Monica Moore, an investigator with the Paulding County district attorney's office, accompanied him home and described him to WSB-TV as small and very timid, but exceedingly polite.
District Attorney Dick Donovan told the station his office struggled to find an agency willing to take in the teen because he is legally an adult, but a local family agreed to house him.
His younger sisters, ages 11 and 13, were taken into protective custody by Paulding County Children's Services, the Journal-Constitution reported.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)