Mar 2, 2010 11:35 PM by Mary Calvi
Story by Mary Calvi, a reporter for WCBS-TV in New York City.
COLLINGSWOOD, NJ - At first glance, it seems like a perfect family photo. But a closer look reveals a very different story.
The boys pictured were nearly starved to death after being horribly abused by the foster parents who later adopted them.
At age 14, Tre'Shawn weighed only 40 pounds. Terrell, 10 years old in the photo, weighed 30 pounds. Michael, age 9, weighed less than 20 pounds.
Michael's tiny body fit into clothes for a baby.
For years, parents Raymond and Vanessa Jackson told fellow churchgoers that the boys had a rare eating disorder that stunted their growth.
Starved at home
When police raided the Jackson home, they learned it was no disorder. The starvation was so severe, it drove one of the children to chew on wallboard.
It's taken the boys a long time to think about their ordeal, let alone speak about it. It's been six years since their rescue.
When they were with the Jacksons, they did not attend school. They were prohibited from even walking outside alone. They spent their days in the basement or on a stairwell.
"We'd go sit on the step, six hours would go by," Michael said.
It took another adoptive brother's defiance to finally change their fate.
With nothing to eat, the eldest brother left the house searching for food. A neighbor called 9-1-1 to report a young child going through the garbage looking for food.
It was three o'clock in the morning, and the little kid was actually 19 years old. Bruce Jackson weighed only 45 pounds.
Police arrested and charged Raymond and Vanessa Jackson with 28 counts of child endangerment and aggravated assault.
About two years later -- nearly 100 pounds heavier and more than a foot taller -- Bruce spoke in court at the sentencing.
"Hit us with brooms, rulers, sticks, shoes and belt buckles," he said.
Bruce moved into a supervised care facility. The three other boys were placed in the hands of another foster family.
"They're not animals, they're human beings," said Amber Parrish.
Amber and James Parrish, who had a little boy of their own, adopted all three brothers.
With the new family, the boys who were told they wouldn't grow ... couldn't stop growing.
"In six months, I went up drastically," Tre'Shawn said. "With all the food they was giving me. I went up 60 pounds."
Terrell said he gained at least 30-40 more pounds. The life of these boys now is a long way from a childhood spent suffering.
"They don't have to worry about where there going to get their next meal," James Parrish said.
"To see them now, I get filled with joy," Amber said.
The brothers say if not for each other, they may never have it made it out of that home alive.
"I think about it and say yeah, I made it," Terrell said. "I thank God for it."
Six years ago it was hard to imagine how four N.J. foster boys beaten and starved could recover. As WCBS' Mary Calvi reports, they speak publicly for the first time since their rescue.
Tre'Shawn, Terrell, and Michael pictured with their former foster family. (CBS)
Tre'Shawn, before and now. (CBS)
Terrell, then and now. (CBS)
Michael, before, and after. (CBS)
Six years after horrific child abuse, Tre'Shawn, Terrell, and Michael share their story. (CBS)
Warning signs, state-by-state child services information and a history of child welfare reforms.