Invisible Children

Children of Michael and Shirley Gray

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.

Michael Gray (L) and Shirley Gray

Two children–Heather “Sophie” Gray (b. 2006) and Jonathan Gray–died in the custody of their adoptive parents, Michael and Shirley Gray. Three other adopted children–M., a boy born in 2005; L., a girl born c. 2007; and T., a boy born in 2009–were imprisoned, starved, and abused by the Grays. The Grays’ adult children, Anthony “Bubba” and Carolyn Gray, lived with them at various points and knew about the abuse. The children were homeschooled.

The Grays were originally from Mississippi, where Anthony and Carolyn were born in the early 1980s. The family moved to Tennessee in the mid-1990s and began adopting children in Halls, Knox County, after their biological children had reached adulthood. They adopted a total of five children, including one child in 2007, one child in 2008, and two children in 2011. The Grays lived in the basement of the Halls home while Anthony, his partner, and sometimes Carolyn with her children lived on the upper floor of the home.

All of the Grays’ adopted children were starved; when they were rescued, they were amazed at how a refrigerator works, and they reported being punished for “stealing” food. The children last saw a doctor or dentist in 2014. By at least 2015, M. was being regularly kept confined in a cage in the basement. In 2015 or 2016, Jonathan became sick and died of causes yet to be determined; the Grays buried him in the yard, telling the other children he had “gone away to live with another family.”

In 2016, the Grays moved to Ten Mile, Roane County with their four surviving minor children, M., Sophie, L., and T. Within a month, M. and Sophie had both been confined to the basement with little food and a bucket for a toilet. The children were originally locked in a dog crate, then later a concrete room that Michael Gray constructed for that purpose. Sophie died in early 2017 and the Grays buried her in the barn, continuing to collect adoption subsidies on her behalf. At various points, T. was also confined to the basement.

When they were rescued, all of the children were officially considered to be homeschooled by the state; Shirley Gray consistently updated their records, even for Sophie who had been dead for three years. M. never received any education at all.

The abuse came to light when neighbors reported T. for riding his scooter alone. When authorities spoke to him, he reported that M. was confined in his home and that Sophie was dead. The Grays were charged with kidnapping, child abuse, and abuse of a corpse. Additional charges may be pending.

Date: May 22, 2020
Ten Mile, Roane County, Tennessee


Documents: Date:
Child’s skeletal remains found; two suspects arrested in Roane County child abuse, neglect case 05-25-2020
Records: Parents admit locking children in basement with little food, burying dead daughter in the barn 05-26-2020
Warrant: Remains recovered from Knox County house related to child abuse case 05-29-2020
Affidavit: Boy’s remains found in yard of Halls home; 2nd dead child linked to Roane Co. couple 05-29-2020
Reports: Second child’s remains recovered in connection with Roane County child abuse case 05-29-2020
Records: Roane couple charged with abusing adopted kids had history of unpaid bills, bankruptcies 06-08-2020