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Parents charged with abusing teens

The parents of two Manatee County girls forced the teenagers to sleep under a makeshift cage of heavy chairs, flogged them with straps and sticks and sometimes prevented them from going to the bathroom, investigators say.

The cages were placed atop their beds with a crude brick-and-string alarm system designed to alert the parents of any attempts to get out, Manatee County sheriff's investigators said Tuesday.

"Both girls appear to be shy, and drawn away from people like they are afraid," one investigator wrote after visiting the east Manatee County home Monday night. "If other means (of punishment) do not work, they are told that they cannot talk, even (for) months at a time."

After receiving a tip to a child abuse hot line, a child protection team member on Monday visited Susan and Keith Ludwig and their daughters at the Myakka City home in east Manatee County.

Susan Ludwig, 53, a homemaker, and Keith Ludwig, a 43-year-old self-employed mechanic, each were charged with two counts of aggravated child abuse. Both posted $50,000 bail and were released Tuesday night from the Manatee County Jail.

Since the arrest, the Ludwigs have stopped cooperating with authorities, sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said. The girls have been placed in temporary foster care.

One of the girls has been forced to sleep under a cage of heavy chairs for about three years, investigators said.

The parents do not have criminal records in Manatee County. Abuse complaints against Keith Ludwig were investigated previously, but no criminal charges were filed.

On Sunday, one of the girls ran away for a day. As punishment, she was made to sleep in the chair-brick confinement system to which her sister was accustomed, deputies said.

"If (the girls) needed to use the bathroom, they had to wake Keith up or just hold it all night," an investigator wrote. ". . . The girls are not allowed to go to school, or even leave the yard to see their friends."

The girls' backs and buttocks were severely bruised when investigators arrived at the house about 6 p.m. Monday.

The Ludwigs will answer to their charges in court April 18.