Dead Boy, 200+ Animals Found at Berwyn Home - NBC Chicago

Dead Boy, 200+ Animals Found at Berwyn Home

Officials discovered massive case of animal hoarding after responding to call of a dead teen



    Dead Boy, 200+ Animals Found at Berwyn Home

    More than 200 animals were rescued from a Berwyn home Thursday and Friday in a major case of animal hoarding discovered during the investigation of a teen boy. (Published Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011)

    More than 200 animals were rescued from a Berwyn home Thursday and Friday in a major case of animal hoarding discovered during the investigation of a teen boy's death.

    Officials on Thursday were called to a home on the 2800 block of Lombard Avenue after a 14-year-old boy was reported to be unresponsive. The teen, Matthew Degner, later died at a hospital.

    A Friday autopsy pointed to bronchopneumonia and his death was ruled natural, the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office said.

    A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said three other teens -- between the ages of 12 and 17 -- also lived in the home. All were suffering from flu-like symptoms. They're now in the care of Department of Children and Family Services personnel and are receiving medical care and therapy.

    A fourth person, an 18-year-old, remained in the hospital Friday night.

    A DCFS spokesman said it's believed the children were kept in isolation.

    "Social isolation is one of the most powerful risk factors for serious harm to children. 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,"said DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe.

    He said there'd been no previous contact between DCFS and the family.

    Neighbors said the children never went to school and that the family had lived in the home for about eight years. The children were extremely malnourished, neighbors said, and it's suspected they never saw medical care.

    The mother told investigators that all of her kids got sick on Sept. 4 with stomach problems, but she said that everyone seemed to be getting better, the source said.

    Officials refused to confirm some details, but neighbors told NBC Chicago that someone living in the home took the teen's body outside, presumably so investigators wouldn't go inside.

    They did, and investigators said they found more than 200 animals in the roughly 1,100 square-foot bungalow. The menagerie included dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, squirrels, at least one raccoon, two monkeys and two kinkajous.

    "The place was colorless. There were no rugs on the floor. There were birds flying loose on the second floor. There were cats running loose on the first floor," a source told NBC Chicago.

    The cats -- dozens of them -- are in particularly bad shape, said Terri Sparks, the Animal Welfare League's marketing and public relations director.

    "They're riddled with disease, sick and mean," she said.

    The more exotic animals will be taken out-of-state to an undisclosed rescue sanctuary, said AWL Director Linda Estrada.

    Crews from the AWL, the region's largest humane society, were on the scene in hazardous materials suits.

    "They're hungry. They're thirsty. The cages aren't cleaned. It's bad," Estrada said of the animals.

    "Our animal control officers who have been in some pretty horrific and disgusting environments said this home was easily the worst they’ve been in," said Cook County Sheriff's Office spokesman Steve Patterson.

    The mother was being held at the Berwyn police station Friday night. No charges have been filed.


    The Animal Welfare League is asking the community for assistance with the rescued animals. The animals that are well enough will soon be available for adoption. For more information, contact the AWL at 708-636-8586 or visit