Burned by Drano: Denver couple charged with child abuse after 15-year-old scalded

DENVER - A Denver couple has been charged with child abuse after their 15-year-old son was badly burned with liquid Drano, authorities say.

Anthony Harrell, 50, and Denise Combs, 57, have been formally charged with felony child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, said Denver district attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough.

The couple's 15-year-old son had been absent from school since Nov. 20, according to court records obtained by 10News' sister station 7NEWS.  

A teacher concerned about the boy's long absence called his home and spoke with his mother. Combs told the teacher that her son "had an accident" in which he'd gotten into chemicals kept under a sink and had suffered burns on his groin, stomach, and legs, according to a police statement supporting a search warrant for the family's Denver home.

The mother told the teacher the boy went to the doctor. The mother said she was unsure when he might return to school. Combs had not notified school the boy was hurt or that he would be absent for an extended period of time, the police report said.

The teacher called a child abuse hotline and told a Denver Human Services official what she had learned about the teen being burned with chemicals.

The human services worker asked Denver police to conduct a welfare check on the boy.

On Dec. 16, police officers went to the family's home on North Perth Circle. The boy's father, Anthony Harrell, answered the door and the officers explained they were there for a welfare check on his son and they needed to talk with the boy.

The father wouldn't allow police to enter the house, but instead the Harrell "escorted the victim out the front door completely naked," according to an arrest affidavit.

An officer immediately noticed burns and peeling scabs on the boy's genitalia and stomach area, the affidavit said. "The skin on the victim's penis and scrotum was still black," the affidavit stated.

An officer asked if the boy had been treated for the injuries and the father said they tried to treat the injuries themselves and that he was injured before Thanksgiving," the affidavit said.

Paramedics who were called to the home informed a detective that father told them the boy had poured liquid Drano on the floor, urinated in the Drano and then sat in it, the affidavit said. One paramedic said the injuries were not consistent with the victim sitting in the chemical.

During an interview with a detective, the mother contradicted what she'd told the teacher about her son having visited a doctor. Now, Combs said she "knew that the victim had not received medical attention and did not seek medical attention," according to the arrest affidavit.

Instead, the mother said "she contacted a pharmacist and gave limited details about the injury. She said the pharmacist told her to put 'Solarcaine' and 'Neosporin'" on the injury, the affidavit said.

The boy had suffered the most serious, third-degree chemicals burns, police said.

Police arrested the parents the day of the welfare check.

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