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Children's toys and a trampoline appear well-used at the home of 34-year-old Stephanie Elizabeth Stone, who lived with her two children on Bahamas Drive in Chatsworth, Ga. Murray County authorities discovered two cages inside the home, one with an 11-year-old boy inside and another believed to have been used to house an 8-year-old girl who was not in a cage when authorities arrived here on Thursday. Stone and another woman are facing charges in the investigation.

CHATSWORTH, Ga. -- In the small community here where deputies on Thursday found an 11-year-old boy in a makeshift cage and another cage apparently built to hold an 8-year-old girl, one neighbor said she had no idea the children she often saw playing outside were being imprisoned inside.

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Wanda Sue Redfern
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Stephanie Elizabeth Stone
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Murray County, Ga., Sheriff Gary Lankford, right, and Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent Greg Ramey, left, talk about the discovery of cages inside a Chatsworth, Ga., used to hold two young children. The cages might have been in use at least since June.
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Investigators descended on the home Thursday afternoon and arrested the children's 34-year-old mother, Stephanie Elizabeth Stone, on charges of first-degree cruelty to children, false imprisonment and possession of a controlled substance. Another woman in the home, 49-year-old Wanda Sue Redfern, also was charged with first-degree cruelty to children and false imprisonment. Both are being held without bond, according to Murray County Sheriff Gary Lankford.

"I thought they were good people," the neighbor said. "I've known them the entire time I've lived here."

The neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said she has known the family at 530 Bahamas Drive most of her life. She occasionally visited the home when she corralled the boy after he left his yard, returning him to his mother.

Officials characterized both children as having "special needs," but they did not describe their conditions any further.

The children, especially the boy, sometimes got out of Stone's fenced yard. The neighbor said she would round them up and take them home but "[Stone] never let me go any farther than the living room."

Whether the children had "special needs" or not, they shouldn't have been caged like animals, she said.

Lankford said 911 dispatchers received a phone call around 11 a.m. Thursday from someone they say has not been identified. The caller reported that a child had been left alone.

But when an adult woman, later identified as Redfern, and a small girl answered the door, the deputy cleared the call and left since an adult appeared to be present.

A second 911 call from the same person around 3:15 p.m. Thursday urged another visit and asked officers to look further.

Redfern answered the door with the same girl and the deputy was given consent to go inside, Lankford said.

The deputy found the two cages in a bedroom area of the home, the sheriff said.

Lankford and GBI special agent Greg Ramey said the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services had a case open with the family but closed it in June. Lankford said the sheriff's office was involved in that case only through the department.

There was no explanation why DFCAS had been involved with the family to begin with, but representatives of the state agency were back at the home Thursday.

The children on Thursday "were in relatively good condition and DFACS took custody of them," Ramey said. The children have undergone medical checks, he said.

Ramey said the children were caged for "some period of time" but he couldn't say precisely how long they were imprisoned.

Conditions in some parts of the home were "OK," but the area where the cages were kept were "less than anyone would want to live in," Ramey said. Officials said the cages could have been in use since June or even earlier, although no one said whether the cages overlapped the DFACS case.

The boy's makeshift cage was made from two, metal twin bed frames, combined with metal hinges and wire ties to hold it together. The girl apparently was being kept in the other cage, made of wooden bed frame parts with wood shelving and screws to hold it together, officials said.

The boy "was calm but he was ready to get out of the cage and that was accomplished fairly quickly," Ramey said.

Ramey said Redfern is about to marry into Stone's family. The children's father does not live at the residence but has been made aware of the situation, he said.

Other arrests could be pending in the ongoing investigation, Ramey and Lankford said.

Ramey, a 30-year veteran agent, said he'd never encountered such a situation, and he called the investigation "a different kind of case."

A 34-year-old mother of four who lives in the same neighborhood said she was shocked by what was taking place in her community.

"It doesn't seem real," Nicole Clure said Thursday. "The kids are always out there riding their bikes and stuff.

"It's scary," she said. "It makes you want to keep your kids at home, that's for sure."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

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