Invisible Children

Children of Tom and Debra Schmitz

Content note: Case narratives include descriptions of severe violence inflicted on children, including abuse and neglect, sexual violence, torture, and murder, as well as mentions of suicide and domestic violence. They also include photos of victims and perpetrators of violence.

All 18 of the children living with Tom and Debra Schmitz, some adopted and some biological, were removed from their home after a nurse in their employ reported abuse and neglect. Many of the children had been placed with them illegally, but the Schmitzes insisted that they felt called by God to care for needy children and were loving parents and not abusive. The couple were accused of beating their children, locking them in cage-like bunk beds, holding the children’s heads underwater, forcing one child to eat his own vomit, locking the children in a dark cellar, tying children into their beds, putting the children on a diet of bread and water as punishment, lancing a boil with a rusty box cutter, and forcing the children to dig what they were told were their own graves. Debra homeschooled four of the children, citing behavioral problems. The nurse who reported the abuse said Debra told her she was going to begin homeschooling one of the older children because she was concerned that the girl would talk to a school official about her mistreatment. The couple had been accused of abuse in Wisconsin before moving to Tennessee, but social workers had found the accusations unsubstantiated at that time. The couple’s older biological daughter, who was no longer in the home when their children were removed, said that her mother had once been a “normal mom” but that she had changed. The couple ultimately plead guilty to the accusations.

Date: June 2004
Location: Trenton, Tennessee

Documents: Date:
Schmitz Family 2000-03-26
Families of Distinction 2000-03-26
Tenn. couple specializes in raising kids 2003-05-11
Allegations taint adoption story 2004-06-25
Abuse Claims At Noted Foster Home 2004-06-30
Police ponder more child abuse charges 2004-06-30
Authorities still wondering how Schmitzes got 18 children 2004-07-06
Affidavit: Children made to dig own graves Friday, July 9, 2004 2004-07-09
Pair charged in abuse case might see kids 2004-07-28
Charges reduced in alleged abuse case 2004-08-18
New foster parent says children relieved to be rescued 2004-08-23
Schmitz’ daughter talks about how her parents abused foster children 2004-09-01
Child Abuse in Two Huge Tennessee Families Investigated 2004-09-02
Enclosed beds cause controversy 2006-01-17
Underground network moves children from home to home 2006-01-18
USA Today Helps Expose AT Underground Trafficking of Unwanted Children 2006-01-20
Protect foster kids 2006-01-23
Jurors hear testimony from children in case against Tom and Debra Schmitz 2006-01-31
Safe Haven or House of Horror? 2006-02-13
Schmitzes enter plea agreements days before second trial 2006-07-11
Mother begins serving sentence that even daughter thinks is too short 2007-05-27