Oswego 'house of squalor' reminds some of Erin Maxwell

Erin Maxwell / file photo

The "house of squalor" in Oswego has reminded many people of the death of Erin Maxwell, and some wonder what ever happened to "Erin's Law."

After a couple and their four young children were forced to leave their home on West 5th Street, Oswego's Housing Inspector Pat Kelly was so shocked by the conditions inside the home, she notified the Department of Social Services to investigate the family. Kelly wasn't the only one shocked by the tons of garbage, filth and human excrement.

People who became activists following the death of Erin Maxwell two years ago were also upset. Colleen Scott of "Justice for Erin" told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon Wednesday, "I was shocked when I saw your news story last night...because not one child but four children were living that way."

Erin Maxwell was murdered in 2008 in a home with similar living conditions, even though social workers were called to the home three times in the past. Maxwell's stepbrother Alan Jones is serving a life sentence in prison for her murder. The 11-year-old's parents, Lynn and Lindsey Maxwell, are each doing two years in jail for child endangerment.

Maxwell's death created a firestorm of controversy that resulted in "Erin's Law." It called for increasing penalties for murder and other crimes of child abuse and neglect. It further defined what constitutes neglect and included living conditions. It also would have changed procedures for the way state and local authorities investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. Though "Erin's Law" was introduced in 2009 and again earlier this year, it has yet to come up for a vote. It is stalled in the Codes Committees of both the State Senate and Assembly.

Joan Christensen, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly, said she is frustrated. "It made an attempt to define neglected child and in doing so put the onus on the Department of Social Services to act in a timely way... hotlines to act in a timely way and not let it slide by."

Christensen says Erin's Law was blocked because many of her colleagues did not like its language and several of its provisions. She hopes it will be re-introduced sometime in the future.

Original Story:

Oswego city officials are investigating a house of squalor that was home to a couple and their four children since 2007.

When property manager Lauren Comerford entered the home on Friday she discovered shocking living conditions reminiscent of the home in which Erin Maxwell died. Comerford says work crews have removed more than 500 bags of garbage from the two-story apartment at 268 West 5th Street since Friday.

CNY Central has obtained photos from Comerford depicting the extent of the trash buildup inside the home. Click on the slideshow player to view them.

Oswego Housing Inspector Patricia Kelly confirms to CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that she notified child protective services because four children under the age of seven were living in the apartment. Oswego County Department of Social Services Director Fran Lanigan could not confirm that an investigation was taking place, citing confidentiality laws. Neighbor Linda Tonkin said she was unaware of the living conditions until this past weekend as crews were hauling out trash and garbage.

Comerford says she was never allowed inside the apartment but in 2008 the odor of urine and feces was so strong that she notified the state child abuse hotline. She claims that she was told she could not tell people how to live and that her report would not be referred to social services. Comerford says she now understands that DSS is investigating and the family is at an undisclosed location.

The family's identity is not being released. They were ordered to vacate the home last month based upon the fact the apartment had no utility service.