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Family of white West Virginia couple Donald Lantz and Jeanne Whitefeather – accused of forcing their adopted black children to work as slaves and live in barn – insist they are not racists

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Family of white West Virginia couple Donald Lantz and Jeanne Whitefeather – accused of forcing their adopted black children to work as slaves and live in barn – insist they are not racists


Friends and relatives have defended the white couple accused of keeping their adopted black children as slaves in a barn, telling DailyMail.com they are ‘not guilty and not racist’.

Donald Lantz, 63, and Jeanne Whitefeather, 62 of Sissonville, West Virginia, have been charged with child abuse after their five kids were found locked in a dilapidated shed after allegedly laboring on the surrounding farmland.

Prosecutors in Kanawah County say that the couple targeted the children – aged 16, 14, 11, nine and six – because of their race and were ‘used basically as slaves’.

But Whitefeather’s brother, Marcus Hughes, 60, has defended his sister and her husband, telling DailyMail.com they are the ‘least racist people around’.

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‘They’ve been made out to be monsters which isn’t true,’ he said. ‘You’re supposed to be innocent until you’re found guilty.’

Jeanne Whitefeather, 62

Donald Lantz, 63, and Jeanne Whitefeather, 62 of Sissonville, West Virginia, previously pleaded not guilty to charges including human trafficking and forced labor of a minor 

The backyard shed where two of the couple's teenage adopted children were found. Cops say there was no way to open the door from the inside, and the kids were found without food or water

The backyard shed where two of the couple’s teenage adopted children were found. Cops say there was no way to open the door from the inside, and the kids were found without food or water

Hughes added: ‘Just because nobody’s told her side of the story doesn’t make her guilty. There were issues in the neighborhood because white people are raising black kids.’

His defense of the couple comes after DailyMail.com revealed that the couple fled Washington State to escape growing scrutiny there from police and child welfare authorities.

They were arrested in Sissonville, West Virginia, 10 miles north of the state capital, Charleston, in October 2023 after reports from neighbors that the children were being mistreated.

At a court hearing in June they pleaded not guilty to multiple new charges of human trafficking of a minor child, use of a minor child in forced labor, and child neglect creating substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death.

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Lantz and Whitefeather were initially arrested in October 2023, with the original police report stating that the two oldest children were locked in the squalid 20×14 shed with no lights, food or running water – with a camera planted in the top left corner of the room.

The children, who had bad body odor, were found wearing dirty clothes with sores on their feet after a wellness check was performed on the outhouse on Cheyenne Lane -– which had no way of being opened from the inside.

Hughes denied that the children were locked in the barn, claiming it was a ‘playhouse’ for the children, and that there was a ‘padlock for their safety’ with keys on both sides of the door.

The structure sat on the grounds of the couple’s five-acre, three-bedroom $295,000 Sissonville property, which they have since sold.

Lantz and Whitefeather were originally arrested in October last year

Lantz and Whitefeather were originally arrested in October last year 

Jeanne Whitefeather is seen in court in June accused of child neglect, trafficking and slavery offenses

Jeanne Whitefeather is seen in court in June accused of child neglect, trafficking and slavery offenses 

Photos from inside the Sissonville shed where two teenagers were allegedly found locked inside, were shown during a bond hearing for Jeanne Whitefeather in October 2023

Photos from inside the Sissonville shed where two teenagers were allegedly found locked inside, were shown during a bond hearing for Jeanne Whitefeather in October 2023

Lantz and Whitefeather previously owned an 80-acre $725,000 home 20 miles from the Canadian border in Tonasket, Washington, which they sold after their arrest in October.

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The couple signed over power of attorney to Hughes in October following their arrest, documents obtained by DailyMail.com show.

A close friend of Whitefeather, Darren Wise, also rushed to her defense, telling DailyMail.com that he ‘disagrees’ with all the allegations made against them.

Wise helped the couple sell their home in Tonasket shortly before they moved to West Virginia, claiming the quick sale was because of the probe from cops and CPS.

‘The family was treated horribly,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘Did Jeanne and Don make a mistake leaving? Probably. I wouldn’t deny that. But the allegations, I don’t see how they can be accurate.’

‘Jeanne had expressed to me that some of the neighbors in West Virginia weren’t as welcoming as they had anticipated or expected them to be, which is why they were in the process of moving.’

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Neighbors told DailyMail.com that kids would be seen lining up on a daily basis to use an outhouse out front and be seen carrying 5-gallon buckets to water a new swath of trees.

The family also had numerous animals including sheep and dogs. According to Wise, Whitefeather was also in the early stages of breeding wallabies. He said her husband had worked fighting wildfires.

Both Wise and Whitefeather’s brother claim that the couple bought their initial property in West Virginia sight unseen, and had hoped to move to a bigger property where all the children could ‘have their own rooms’.

When he saw the property Lantz complained that the bar was too close to the road and didn’t afford them the privacy they wanted. 

Wise also took aim at Washington authorities, saying it was ‘typical’ of the government, adding: ‘Law enforcement likes to point fingers whenever there’s potential to point a finger at a white person.

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‘It is a system now that favors the child and wants to leave the parent completely out of it. They will just pull the kid from the home, regardless of finding all the facts.

‘The treatment they got from the state of Washington drove them out.’

Donald Lantz complained that the barn on the West Virginia property was too close to the road and lacked privacy

Donald Lantz complained that the barn on the West Virginia property was too close to the road and lacked privacy

Whitefeather's brother Marcus Hughes took the pictures of the inside of the shed after she and her husband had been arrested

Whitefeather’s brother Marcus Hughes took the pictures of the inside of the shed after she and her husband had been arrested

He added that Whitefeather was terrified they were going to take her eldest child away, with Marcus confirming that the boy has been hospitalized due to mental health issues.

Police reports in their prior hometown reveal that two of the children had run away from home and that they allegedly forced one of them at gunpoint to stay in his room, while using a bullwhip for punishment. 

On November 1 2020, police were called to a local hospital where the eldest son, in his early teens, was having a meltdown. 

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When officers arrived, the dad was seen pinning his son to the floor after he purportedly ‘freaked out and tried to run out,’ the police report states.

Two days later, the same son accused his parents of abuse, telling hospital staff that ‘they lock him in the bedroom with a bucket to use for the bathroom.

The teen also accused his parents of physically abusing his sister. That triggered a call to police and a CPS referral. But the boy was promptly discharged to his family because there were no inpatient bed available, the report states.

The deputy later stopped by the ranch, where the mom explained that the boy was receiving therapy for mental issues, but that ‘with puberty coming on it has gotten worse’.

Later that same month, the older boy, reportedly wearing a ragged old jacket over a t-shirt on a freezing night, ran away across a snowy field to a neighbor’s property where he called police.

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He claimed that he’d had a fist fight with his dad and been grounded for ‘speaking back to mother.’ He also revealed that there were weapons in the house, and that his mom waved a gun at him when he tried to leave his room, the records show.

The boy told police that his mother wouldn’t let him phone for help when he required medical attention and needed to increase his medication.

Despite the crisis, the deputy wrote in his report that ‘I found him to be mentally competent for his age,’ and that he ‘didn’t suspect mental health issues’.

One of those neighbors, however, told DailyMail.com that the boy made some startling remarks.

‘It was pretty strange,’ the woman recalled. ‘He told us he was grounded because he’d insulted his mother. He didn’t say how he insulted her, but he did say why. 

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‘He said it was because she had demons in her and he wanted to help get them out. 

‘He said he was part of a group online that believes the demons could change them into animals. He said he was becoming a lion.’

‘He said his voice was sore because all his practice roaring to become a lion,’ she added. ‘I didn’t really address the lion situation, just talked more about whether he was afraid of demons.’

The Tonasket, Washington ranch that the couple sold early last year to move to West Virginia

The Tonasket, Washington ranch that the couple sold early last year to move to West Virginia

Lantz, 63, and Whitefeather, 62, had been living in the small rural town of Tonasket, Washington since 2019, purchasing the 80-acre Big Rock Ranch to raise the adopted children

Lantz, 63, and Whitefeather, 62, had been living in the small rural town of Tonasket, Washington since 2019, purchasing the 80-acre Big Rock Ranch to raise the adopted children

Reports filed by cops in Washington have also revealed that Child Protective Services were threatening to remove their oldest son from the home.

Lantz told officers on one occasion that his older son had ‘assaulted his wife and the other children,’ and that they were all afraid of him returning home.

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Hughes confirmed that his sister had asked Washington CPS for help with their eldest son, because he has mental health issues.

‘He’s in a mental hospital,’ he said. ‘She was asking for help and not getting it. So she was scared of CPS because the last time she asked for help she got investigated.

‘If they did something wrong then they should be accountable. I’d turn my own kids in, if you do something wrong, you got to pay the price.

‘But you shouldn’t have to account for people’s lives. There has been zero effort to find the truth.’

All five of the couple’s adopted children are being looked after by the state, with Hughes claiming they aren’t being told their location or condition – adding they won’t let the family give them their clothes and toys.

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He said that the family are ‘no longer advocates for adoption’, following the allegation, saying the family moved from Washington for a normal life.

‘We don’t even know how to spell racists. It’s just not part of the culture there. We’re the least racist people around, it’s not who we are, and to be accused of that is just icky for our family.

‘I’m a blue stripe guy. I’ve always backed in the cops. But then we got to this, and we went out in the house and looked at ourselves, and we said this doesn’t seem right.

‘They just lied. It’s not even a mistake. They’re being held in jail based on information that’s not true.’

He says police have not spoken to him or his wife at all during the investigation, despite them attending a riverboat tour with the family just before their arrest and traveling to their house for a birthday party – with the couple saying ‘nothing was amiss’.

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Kanawha County Sheriff’s deputies previously said that a complaint was made back in May 2023 about the couple – and a second complaint was made in September.

Outhouses on the Sissonville, West Virginia property. The couple sold the home in December 2023, after they had been initially arrested

Outhouses on the Sissonville, West Virginia property. The couple sold the home in December 2023, after they had been initially arrested 

The nature of those complaints were similar to the charges the pair now face, with neighbors also calling CPS.

In both cases last year, deputies said that they did not find any wrongdoing when they made a trip to their home with the report stating they saw the children inside the home, and on one occasion, they were eating dinner.

Whitefeather told authorities that the barn where the girl, 16, and boy, 14, were found was a ‘teenage clubhouse,’ and they were not held against their will.

The mother told deputies the children – who were all homeschooled – actually ‘liked’ the shed they were locked in.

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However, the teenage girl told deputies they had been locked in the building for approximately 12 hours and were last given food at 6am.

The building only had a small RV porta-potty and no running water, according to images from inside and descriptions from the initial police report.

The children were also forced to sleep on the hard concrete floor, they said. The criminal complaint stated: ‘If there was a medical emergency or fire, the children would be unable to exit the locked room to safety.’

Court documents said neighbors reported that the children were forced into farm labor and were not allowed inside the main house.

Attorneyb Mark Plants, defending Whitefeather, told DailyMail.com that they have a ‘powerful basis and defense’ in the case.

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‘My client denies the allegations,’ he said. ‘They adopted five of these children eight years ago. They love them dearly.

‘But there’s a missing piece of information that’s very, very important to this scenario, and they just absolutely deny the allegations, and any racial allegations are emphatically, absolutely denied.’

Plants added that there is a ‘mental health’ issue with the children, particularly their oldest son who is ‘very dangerous to his brothers and sisters’.

His comments come after concerns from Kanawha County prosecutors that their original cash bonds were obtained through trafficking profits after the couple was able to acquire the $400,000 bond money for their release from jail in February.

The couple are now back behind bars on a bond that was double the original, at half a million dollars each.

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Plants had argued against the increase, saying his client was not a flight risk and had complied with house arrest and ‘hundreds of restrictions’.

He added: ‘These are very, very serious, heinous charges, but all the other factors favors my client and absolutely no criminal history had never been arrested.

‘You’re innocent until proven guilty, and a bond is to make sure that we’re going to show up in court. With all those factors favored that the bond should remain the same.’

Their next court appearance is set for September 9.



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West Virginia

Conserving W.Va. History, Joining A Silent Book Club And Celebrating Tourism, This West Virginia Week – West Virginia Public Broadcasting

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Conserving W.Va. History, Joining A Silent Book Club And Celebrating Tourism, This West Virginia Week – West Virginia Public Broadcasting


On this West Virginia Week, we spend some time in the Eastern Panhandle and learn about a new Battlefield Park, hear from a Harpers Ferry author and explore the unknown future of the John Brown Wax Museum.

We also travel to Morgantown to experience a Silent Book Club, and then south to Logan County to check out the hopes riding on the inaugural Governor’s School for Tourism. 

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In other news this week, we learn the latest on the health of the coal industry in West Virginia, check in on a campaign to improve foster care, hear from the state Board of Education meeting and visit an archeological dig in Malden.  

Liz McCormick is our host this week. Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert.

West Virginia Week is a web-only podcast that explores the week’s biggest news in the Mountain State. It’s produced with help from Bill Lynch, Briana Heaney, Chris Schulz, Curtis Tate, Emily Rice, Eric Douglas, Jack Walker, Liz McCormick and Maria Young.

Learn more about West Virginia Week.

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West Virginia

Hometown Senior Center has a new owner

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Hometown Senior Center has a new owner


PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Putnam Aging, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of senior citizens, is now the owner of Hometown West Virginia’s senior center.

The Putnam County Commission has allowed Putnam Aging to work in three of the county’s senior centers, but now that they own the center in Hometown, Director Jenni Sutherland said they can start improving the outdated facility.

“Some of our senior centers are just newer, more up to date, able to run computer labs and other types of activities and the hometown center is just an older building,” Sutherland said.

Melissa Villalobos, the head chef at Hometown Senior Center, said she’s excited for the possibilities after receiving a new oven for their meal program.

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“I was in a convention oven right there, and yeah it’s hard preparing 150 meals,” Villalobos said.

Sutherland said having ownership of the building will make it easier to improve the facility with non-removable upgrades.

“So we’re able to cook more meals at one time, but there’s other types of improvements that we’d like to make to the building itself that will now be possible due to this gracious donation by the county commission,” she said.

Sutherland also said potential improvements could include more level floors, a larger parking lot and repairs to the old electrical system.

Putnam Aging will also host a Christmas in July themed picnic on July 25 at Valley Park in Hurricane, West Virginia.

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West Virginia

Ironton hosts 7-on-7 for local Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia schools

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Ironton hosts 7-on-7 for local Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia schools


IRONTON, Ohio. (WSAZ) – On Thursday afternoon, 12 different teams descended upon Tanks Memorial Stadium for 7-on-7 football.

Here are the highlights that include Ironton, Fairland, Jackson, Eastern, Boyd County, Notre Dame, Valley and Chapmanville Regional.



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