The homeschool couple with 10 children living “off the grid” in rural Kentucky will have to wait longer to learn the fate of their children, who were seized by the state following a welfare check by the local sheriff last week.
The couple, Joe and Nicole Naugler, were scheduled to have a custody hearing at 9 a.m. Monday, but that hearing did not begin until after 12:30 p.m. and lasted several hours.
The Nauglers posted to their Facebook page Monday night that their children remain in the custody of the state and an investigation is ongoing.
“We have allowed CHFS (Cabinet for Health and Family Services) to inspect our property and interview our children multiple times. After every visit they have confirmed, and confirmed again today that our children are happy, healthy and well cared for and that our property is sufficient for their needs,” the Facebook post said. “Despite that, the judge decided as a result of the deliberations in today’s hearing that our children will remain in CHFS care while they continue their investigation.”
Now, a wild card has surfaced in the form of Joe Naugler’s estranged son, Alex, whom he fathered in a previous relationship. The teen came to testify against his father Monday, accusing him of past abuse.
“Alex, my 19-year-old estranged son, testified in today’s hearing. We are both heartbroken with the way Alex’s upbringing away from us and his strained relationship with his mother have affected him,” Joe Naugler wrote on Facebook. “Although we are sad our children will not be returned to us today, we have nothing to hide. We have cooperated with all requests made to us by CHFS and will continue to do so. We are confident that throughout this process Nicole and I will be shown to be the good parents that we are and that our family will be reunited. We thank everyone for all you have done for us and ask for continued prayers for our children. We want all our children to know that we love them and we are constantly with them in our hearts.”
The couple has raised the 10 children devoid of almost all modern conveniences on a 26-acre plot about an hour southwest of Louisville. They live in a 280-square-foot shack with tarps extending out for additional covered areas. They grow vegetables, hunt and cook on a wood stove. A generator provides limited electric power. They have no indoor plumbing, and their bathroom is an outhouse. They have access to water from a neighbor’s well.
Their reclusive lifestyle was invaded last Wednesday evening when Breckinridge County Sheriff Todd Pate arrived for a welfare check.
Nicole Naugler, who is five months pregnant with her 11th child, was home at the time with her two oldest sons, and the other eight children were away with their father. She drove off and was stopped a short way from the homestead, reportedly slammed into a police squad car belly-first and charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. She says she was just trying to protect her children from being taken.
Following Monday’s hearing, the Nauglers walked past the media gathered outside with hands clasped tightly together, reported WBKO in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“Nicole wiped a tear from her left eye passing the WBKO crew at the courthouse. Both declined to comment to the media, as did Hardin.”
Shortly after the family left, Sheriff Todd Pate entered the main room of the courthouse with Joe Naugler’s oldest son, Alex Brow.
Alex chose to speak to the media about his father. He was taken away at age 4, he says. He said the conditions he was living in at the time in a different state with Joe weren’t as primitive as their plot of land in Breckinridge County, but said he suffered abuse nonetheless.
“I got all the beatings. I got most of the mental abuse. There was a lot of sexual abuse toward me. We had a very dysfunctional relationship,” said Brow.
Brow told the media it was the first time he had laid eyes on his father since he was taken away from him more than a decade ago. He told WBKO the reason he was in Kentucky was to help his 10 brothers and sisters.
Sheriff Pate said he’d been out to the Naugler property but hadn’t gone inside. He said the Nauglers have been “resistant” whenever police have dealt with the family.
“There have been some threats against the department through email, some nasty phone calls. People are hearing one side of the story. I’m not entitled to tell the rest of the story,” said Pate.
The custody case involves juveniles, so the hearing took place behind closed doors with no media or public allowed.
“The family is emotionally drained,” family friend Pace Ellsworth told WND Tuesday. “It’s being torn apart and being kept apart, period. They’re extremely saddened by the allegations, and simply want their children’s wishes to be known and accepted.
“They will do everything in their power to get their children back by being the best parents they can possibly be. They have nothing to hide.”
Michael Farris Jr. of the Home School Legal Defense Association told WND Tuesday that HSLDA is not defending the couple.
“We had contact with the family initially, but they are now being assisted by a local attorney not affiliated with HSLDA,” Farris said.
As WND reported earlier this week, a family friend, Pace Ellsworth, said the Nauglers and their 10 children were a happy family that chose to live outside of modern systems.
The family subscribed to a method of homeschooling called “unschooling” in which children learn through experience rather than from textbooks and they focus on subjects that interest them.
“They chose to live off grid and chose to live as homeschoolers with no curriculum, and they just chose to live that way and to have their children have a more eclectic experience, a way of life that most people don’t experience anymore,” Ellsworth said. “It’s become sort of a thing in the world to go off grid. And going off grid doesn’t mean Davy Crockett anymore; it means having solar panels, or a wind farm and having a little more freedom, more freedom as opposed to living with a corporation, or the state.”
While they live primitively, they have online access and share their experiences and family photos on Facebook.
The site has more than 31,000 “likes” and many comments, most of them positive.
A GoFundMe account started by Ellsworth had raised more than $41,000 for the family since last week to help with mounting legal expenses.