When Judith Leekin, 62, would leave her home she bound the teenagers, ages 15 to 17, and adults together, police spokesman Deputy Robert Vega said.
"They were not allowed to leave the home," Vega said.
Some of the children were found with marks on their wrists, as well as scars and burns. Two of the teens had less than a fourth-grade education, while another is illiterate, authorities said.
"We have no idea how these kids came into her custody. We have no idea where these kids came from and no idea who they are," Vega said.
It also was not clear how long they had been with Leekin. She was charged Wednesday with five counts of aggravated child abuse, one count of tampering with a witness and one count of possession of a fictitious driver's license/identification, authorities said. She was being held on a total bond of $435,000.
None of the children ever attended school or visited a doctor while in Leekin's care, Vega said.
The investigation began when police were called to a supermarket July 4 because Leekin had apparently left an 18-year-old girl there, Vega said. The girl told police Leekin was her adoptive mother and that she had been living with her since she was 5, Vega said.
Leekin told investigators the girl had left a year ago, denied the abuse allegations and said she lived in the home with her son, a court record said.
During a search of her home, authorities found handcuffs, zip-ties and a surveillance system. A fictitious birth certificate also was found for one teen.
"We found more than one of the people under her care suffering from malnutrition," Port St. Lucie Police Captain Scott Bartal told the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers at a press conference Thursday. "We were able to verify that they were restrained using handcuffs and plastic ties."
Detectives were trying to determine the real identities of the nine people found in the home. They were placed in the care of the Department of Children & Families, Vega said.
"We are very saddened by the situation," Lorrene Egan, district 15 operations manager for DCF told The Palm Beach Post.
Leekin had several identities and Social Security numbers, and authorities were trying to verify her identity, Vega said.
Authorities investigated Leekin in 1999, but the case was closed when she left the area, police said.
Leekin's Miami attorney, Mario Garcia Jr., told The Post it was premature to comment on the case.
"We are doing our own investigation to determine what is and is not true," he said. "We don't have any comment because we don't have any information at this point."
"We found more than one of the people under her care suffering from malnutrition," Port St. Lucie Police Captain Scott Bartal told the Port St. Lucie News at a press conference Thursday. "We were able to verify that they were restrained using handcuffs and plastic ties."