MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — County and state childcare workers say two toddlers found starving in their home should not be returned to either of their parents.

Roberta Gunderson told police she left her toddler sons with her husband, Michael, while she worked out of state for two months.

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When she returned home to Princeton last week, she told police she found the brothers alone and in one crib.

Doctors say the 3-year-old boy weighed less than 22 pounds, while the 2-year-old weighed around 18 pounds. Their father is now in jail.

The boys’ mother has been with them at the hospital. Doctors there say they’ve seen her continue to put the kids’ life in danger.

Police say the two brothers were locked in their bedrooms and deprived of food and water for long periods of time.

The Sherburne County Sheriff placed a sticker on the door of their home, forbidding anyone from stepping inside because of the home’s unsanitary conditions.

Now a petition has been filed to keep the kids in protective custody.

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“I didn’t know that they had children,” neighbor Ashley Ciskovsky said. “Never saw them once.”

Neighbors say the Gunderson’s lived in the home for three years and no one knew there were children inside.

“That’s the heartbreaking part — we’d be here eating our dinner and having a nice night and not knowing there are two kids locked up and starving to death,” Ciskovsky said.

According to court documents, Michael Gunderson told investigators he’d leave the boys with bananas and milk before he went to work for 12 hours. When he got home, he’d give them soup, but only if there was enough electricity to heat it up.

A petition for child protection hopes to keep the boys from both parents.
Staff at Children’s Hospital told investigators they smelled alcohol on Roberta Gunderson, seen her poke her son’s noses to wake them, and dangled food in front of their face, even though she knows eating too much food too fast could cause cardiac arrest.

Others said she showed no interest in learning her sons’ nutritional needs.

“It’s just heartbreaking and I wish we could have done something,” Ciskovsky said.

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The couple’s custody hearing will happen Tuesday morning. Michael Gunderson then faces a judge Wednesday on two felony counts of child neglect and drug possession.