Lydia Price, mother of dead Berwyn teen, bonds out of jail

Neglect, animal hoarding case to appear in court Wednesday

Lydia Price, the mother of a Berwyn boy who was found dead in his home last week of bronchial pneumonia, will appear in court Wednesday on charges of neglect and animal hoarding.

Price, 47, was charged Monday with two felonies and six misdemeanor counts related to neglect and animal cruelty. She posted $10,000 bond today to be released from Cook County Jail, with a preliminary court hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning.

James Young may have been the closest thing to a mentor for family members of Matthew Degner, a 14-year-old Berwyn boy who was found dead outside a squalid home in the 2800 block of Lombard Avenue on Thursday that was filled with more than 200 animals and all of their waste.

The case is so severe it’s left the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services warning about the dangers of extreme social isolation.

Young was a neighbor to the family who befriended two of Degner’s teenage sisters while they sold boxed household items on a street corner near his home.

According to multiple sources, including Young, Matthew was mentally disabled and unable to care for himself. Young also said none of the Degner children went to school.

“I felt a draw to them and I knew they needed help ... but I had no idea what was going on,” he said. “They were wonderful kids.”

Four additional children ages 12 to 18 were found in the home, along with their 77-year-old grandmother. The minors are now in the custody of DCFS, and have all been treated and released from MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn. The 18-year-old and 77-year-old were also treated, but their condition is not known.

All 109 cats found on the property had to be euthanized because they all had feline leukemia and feline AIDS. Price also was hoarding dogs, exotic birds, squirrels, rats, a large raccoon, brown bats, rabbits and two kinkajous — raccoon-like animals that are found in South America. According to a Berwyn news release, some of the other animals were also euthanized “due to tumors, rabies or other potential diseases which can be transmitted to humans.”A police official, however, said the public is not in danger.

The Animal Welfare League of Chicago has been heading the release of some feral animals back into the wild and taking domesticated ones into custody.

Although the house had running water, the toilets were not working. Police officials said the kids were found with their feet caked in human and animal feces and their bodies were covered in animal bites and scratches.

Price initially pulled Matthew’s body outside the home so that emergency service personnel would not have to come inside, police said. The boy was pronounced dead at 4:39 p.m. Thursday at MacNeal Hospital, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

Conditions at the house were so bad that the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office requested the home be sealed off pending the outcome of Matthew’s autopsy for fear communicable diseases may be present. It was later determined that Degner died of bronchial pneumonia.

The case was so unusual that many seasoned professionals were shocked by the conditions inside the home and the suffering of Matthew and his family members.

Kendall Marlowe, a DCFS spokesman, found the case so compelling he decided to make an additional statement about the need to check in on neighbors.

“Social isolation is one of the most powerful risk factors for serious harm to children,” he said. “If we as a community never knock on that door that no one ever seems to open, we may never know how bad it is or how we can help.”

Marlowe said the three minor children are receiving medical treatment and psychological counseling while they are in the custody of the state. Information about the 18-year-old sibling and grandmother’s whereabouts was not immediately available.

On Monday, Price was charged with one felony county of criminal neglect of a disabled child resulting in death, one felony count of criminal neglect of a disabled child not resulting in death, four misdemeanor counts of endangering the life of a child, one misdemeanor count of companion animal hoarding and one misdemeanor count of cruel treatment.

Rigoberto Cisneros, who lived a few doors down from the Degner family, described them as aloof and secretive.

“If you said ‘hi’ to them, they just wouldn’t say anything back,” Cisneros said.

A crowd of children that gathered outside the home on Friday as emergency service personnel investigated. All said they had never met the family or any of the children.

Young, who seemed to be the only neighbor with a connection to any members of the family, wanted to help but only encountered the two girls on the street. He said he never spoke to Price, or any other members of the family.

The children described themselves as not having any friends, Young added.

“It’s a shame that the family is broken up now,” he said. “These kids never looked like they lived in squalor. They looked clean and healthy to me.”