Newly released details from Sherburne County authorities paint an increasingly bleak picture of the conditions that two starving toddlers endured for many weeks, sometimes while alone for long stretches, in their filthy home south of Princeton.
In a court petition seeking to place the brothers under protective custody, county Health and Human Services officials revealed that the 3-year-old weighed just short of 22 pounds and his brother — who turned 2 years old Friday — less than 18½ pounds after being brought on March 13 first to a Princeton hospital before their swift transfer to University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
The mother, who had been working in Utah since early January, had returned that day to find them home alone and sharing a crib.
The petition, filed last week, said the boys' weights were "significantly below the growth curve and consistent with severe malnutrition," according to Dr. Nancy Harper, a pediatrician at the university hospital who specializes in child abuse prevention.
The petition said Michael S. Gunderson would routinely lock his sons in a bedroom for more than 12 hours at a time while he went to work 35 miles away in Maple Grove.
During one stretch, the petition continued, the father left the boys alone in the Baldwin Township home, which smelled of urine and dog feces, for "two to three days while he left the state to attend a funeral in Wisconsin."
Gunderson, 32, was charged last week with felony child neglect and felony drug possession. The criminal complaint told just a portion of what conditions were like in the home. Gunderson remains jailed ahead of a hearing Wednesday.
Gunderson told county officials that it was his practice to give the boys bananas and milk, change their diapers and head to work. Upon his return, the petition read, he would feed them soup "if enough electricity was available to cook it."
As earlier noted in the charging document against Gunderson, the petition also said the mother returned from Utah to find the older boy "holding feces in his hand like he was going to eat it." She added that it appeared neither child "had eaten in weeks."
While the mother has not been charged, the county officials have questioned her fitness to care for the boys. The petition alleged that a day after the boys were hospitalized, she left the hospital with a friend and returned smelling of alcohol.
Also, she was seen at the hospital "dangling her food" in the faces of both boys, even though she knew there were limits on how much they could eat and how soon out of concern of inducing cardiac arrest, the petition continued.
The filing also said the mother would be sleeping instead of attending therapy and nutritional sessions, and that she has shown "no interest in learning what nutritional standards are being set for her sons."
County officials said this is the first time that child protection authorities have been contacted about this family.
Officials have declined to say anything about the conditions of the boys since they arrived at the hospital 11 days ago.
A law enforcement search of the home in the 31600 block of 123rd Street NW. turned up a pound of marijuana scattered throughout the home in baggies and numerous items indicating that the drug was being cultivated in the home, according to the charges against Gunderson.
Gunderson's criminal history in Minnesota includes two convictions for drug possession and another for aiding and abetting second-degree assault.