Almost as soon as Yolander Lasane and her children moved into their Orlando home, neighbors knew something was terribly wrong.
But the situation really deteriorated in the past year or so after Lasane lost her job and the 400-pound woman began spending more and more time in bed.
The children, ages 5, 9, 12, 15 and 17, ran around shoeless and unsupervised, cussed at adults, smelled bad and often ate cold food out of cans, neighbors recounted in interviews Thursday night.
Relatives and neighbors were horrified, however, when they learned the level of squalor the children were living in. When police arrested Lasane, 45, on Tuesday and charged her with five counts of child neglect, they also released photographs of the home — images that showed piles of garbage, feces on the walls, filthy bathrooms and more.
Orlando code-enforcement officials condemned the house Wednesday after finding animal waste, insects, broken plumbing, bare mattresses in the children's rooms and trash strewn throughout the home.
"How could you leave a child in that situation?" asked John Lasane, 42, an uncle of two of the children who drove down from Georgia on Thursday with his sister and wife to try to gain custody of 9- and 12-year-old boys.
"You see something like that on 'Hoarders,' " Lasane said as he stood outside the boarded home. "For that to be where my brother's two sons live, it really bothered us.
"I think someone should have done something a whole lot sooner," he said.
The Florida Department of Children and Families was made aware of the family's struggles, but it's not clear when. Neighbors said Thursday that DCF had been called shortly after Lasane and her children moved in a few years ago. DCF spokeswoman Kristi Gray said the agency could not legally divulge when it was first notified, although she confirmed that it received a tip in February.
Gray said DCF wanted to give the mother a chance to fix the problem before yanking her children away. "When you're dealing with conditions in dirty homes like this, there are often underlying issues," she said.
John Lasane and his family plan to meet with the DCF officials today. They want to bring the boys to a home where they can experience the love and stability of their large extended family.
"It takes a village to raise a child, and we're that village," said the children's aunt Vanessa Francois, 30. "We're going to raise our nephews the way they should be."
By all accounts, Lasane's children were pretty much raising themselves.
A former licensed practical nurse, Lasane kicked her teenage daughter out of their home about three weeks ago, neighbors said. Child-protection workers, acting on a tip, called police because they said Lasane didn't know where the girl was and she had a duty to report her missing, DCF's Gray said.
If any of the fathers — there are three, plus one more for an adult daughter who no longer lives at home — was paying child support, relatives and neighbors did not know about it.
One of them cannot pay: He is serving a 10-year prison sentence for sexual battery on a victim younger than 12.
Since Lasane stopped working about the same time that she needed knee surgery, the family has been surviving on government assistance, neighbors said. But court records show Lasane had money troubles long before. She declared bankruptcy in 2005.
Last Thanksgiving, two of the children went to neighbor Claudia Ford's house and told her that their mom had not picked up their turkey and they had nothing to eat. She fixed them a plate.
One of the boys, she said, asked if he could live with her.
"I felt sorry for the kids," said Ford, 30, a mother of three.
John Lasane said he and other relatives previously had offered to take his nephews permanently, but their mother would not agree to it.
"She didn't want them, but at the same time she didn't want to let them go," neighbor Eddie Navilus, 33, said as he looked over at the weed-filled, overgrown lawn at the house Lasane rented.
In stark contrast to the images of the family's filthy home, Lasane's Facebook page is full of pictures of family outings to the beach; Disney on Ice and Universal Orlando; and shots of birthday cakes and the children on the first day of school last fall.
"I am such a good mommy!!!!" she posted in August, going on to say she had been "running around all day and shopping" for a barbecue for the children.
Records show that Lasane also served on the PTA and School Advisory Council at her children's elementary school several years ago.
But in June, she posted, "OMG!!!! It is the first day of summer vacation!!!!!! They are home all day every day for the next 2 months!!!! ... Hope I make it through this!!!"
The children are living with relatives under the supervision of DCF for the time being. And depending on the outcome of her criminal case, Lasane could be given a chance to make enough changes to regain custody.
Eddie Travis, 57, one of Lasane's neighbors, said he's angry with her. But he also worries about her.
"Everybody feels sorry for the kids," Travis said. "But personally, I feel sorry for the mom. I've always felt sorry for her. Something is wrong."
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