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Woman Charged With Child Endangerment After 7 Children Found Alone In Vacant Apartment

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A 31-year-old woman is facing child endangerment charges after seven children under the age of 14 were found alone in what should have been a vacant apartment in Chicago's East Garfield Park neighborhood Friday.

Jessie Hunt, 31, has been charged with seven counts of misdemeanor child endangerment, according to the Chicago Police Department.

Officers responded to a call of a check of well being in the 700 block of North Trumbull Avenue shortly before 4 p.m. and found the children in a first floor apartment that would otherwise have been vacant, police said.

Inside were a 14-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy, a 7-year-old boy, a 6-year-old girl, a 4-year-old girl, a 5-year-old boy, and a 23-month-old baby.

Neighbors who spoke to CBS 2 said they don't know how long the family was in the apartment. Some neighbors recognized the family some didn't, but what quickly became plain is no one knew what kind of life they were living, and from what was described in court, it was a difficult one.

Like a lot of neighbors on the block, Art Pitken said he thought the building where the children were found was just another vacant building.

"When we saw all these police cars, we assumed it was a drug bust," he said. "I didn't know anything about children."

Another neighbor, who didn't wish to speak on camera, said Hunt was just a mother in a bad situation

The property owner had been trying to get in, but the door was closed off with a wooden two-by-four. A building manager was surprised to discover the children living in the apartment that had been vacant for some time. It does not appear the children were abandoned, and the 31-year-old woman is believed to be their mother or a relative. However, it is unclear if there was heat in the apartment.

Hunt appeared before a judge Saturday and was released on $10,000 recognizance bond, meaning she doesn't have to pay bail if she makes all her required court dates.

Prosecutors described the conditions in the home in court Saturday, saying officers found the apartment scattered with garbage. The stove burners were on, and the kitchen sink was overflowing with water that smelled like sewage. The children had been using the bathtub as a toilet. There were knives laid out all over the kitchen along with empty frozen pizza boxes.

One child told one of the officers that the mom had left to get a kitchen sink, prosecutors said. The children told the officers the last time they ate was the previous day.

Prosecutors also asked that any contact the mother has with the children be under the Department of Children and Family Services recommendation and evaluation.

Hunt's defense described the single mother as a lifelong resident of Cook County who has received her GED and is raising seven children and said none of the children had any injuries.

"This is a situation of Ms. Hunt living in poverty with her children," Hunt's attorney said.

The judge seemed to be sympathetic to Hunt's situation.

"She has no felony conditions. I agree with what her lawyer said. Bail is not designed to be punitive. I believe she just needs some help from DCFS. It appears all her children are fine. There were no children injured or malnourished to that effect," the judge said.

The judge said "good luck" before moving to the next case.

All seven children were taken to St. Mary's Hospital in good condition. DCFS is investigating, and the children have all been placed with a relative.

Hunt's next court date is Jan. 8.

According to Cook County court records ,Hunt was charged with trespassing in 2012, but the charges later were dropped when the complaining witness did not show up for court.

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