By CBS3 Staff

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CBS/AP) — A Williamsport couple who mistreated their eight children with abuse that included severe beatings, starvation and molestation for over a decade have been charged with endangerment and other counts, authorities said Friday. Their arrests capped a seven-month investigation that began when the father, Matthew Zeigler, was arrested for firing a gun twice out the window of their home during an argument with his wife, Christine Zeigler, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

The children, who now range in age from 14 to 26, were interviewed after their father’s arrest and disclosed emotional and physical abuse inflicted by both parents, including punches and beatings with a leather belt. They also said they were forced to drink noxious liquids and were locked in a closet for as long as a week without food or water.

The father also inappropriately touched the daughters on multiple occasions, particularly when he was drunk, Shapiro said.

The children told investigators that while their father typically inflicted the punishments, their mother would watch and at times assisted.

The couple made initial court appearances Friday at which the father was sent back to jail and the mother released on $15,000 unsecured bail. Preliminary hearings for both were scheduled for Dec. 16.

According to an affidavit, the father repeatedly warned his children that if they told welfare officials what was happening, they would be separated and put in foster homes where they could be raped or murdered — making the children afraid to disclose the abuse and feel helpless.

“These helpless children experienced brutal abuse over a sustained period of time. The conduct of these parents was reprehensible and we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” Shapiro said, adding that the abuse occurred from 1994 to 2020.

The three minor children — 14- and 17-year-old girls and a 15-year-old boy who has cerebral palsy — have been placed in temporary foster care, authorities said.

The mother and father are each charged with eight counts of child endangerment, one for each child, Shapiro said. The father is also charged with intimidating a witnesses, obstructing government function or administration of law, and indecent assault.

It wasn’t known if the couple have retained attorneys.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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