It was a dreary Sunday morning on Chicago's South Side when someone spotted the boy.
Wearing only a soiled pull-up nappy, he was seen running against southbound traffic on Lake Shore Drive, a busy eight-lane thoroughfare that hugs the coast of Lake Michigan.
A passer-by called police to report the alarming sight. When police arrived, they found a 7-year-old covered in cuts and bruises, malnourished and bleeding from a fresh gash above his left eye. A doctor who examined the boy would later say he had never seen so many injuries on a human being, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
As the boy was being treated at the hospital, police found the person that prosecutors now say is responsible for his wretched condition: his mother.
Caroline Woods had just returned to her apartment after looking for her son when she was met by officers and arrested. The 24-year-old was formally charged last week with aggravated battery to a child and aggravated battery using a deadly weapon. She is being held without bond and is due back in court later this month, records show.
Prosecutors allege Woods and her boyfriend, who has not been arrested, abused and tortured the boy for two years, keeping him locked inside a closet in their apartment in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood.
During a bond hearing last week, prosecutors told a judge that the couple would regularly beat the boy with an electrical cord, a baseball bat or a pole, the Sun-Times reported. In one instance, prosecutors said, the boyfriend held the boy down on a hot stove and burned his genitals with a curling iron.
Judge Adam Bourgeois ordered Woods held without bail.
"These are depraved acts," the judge told Woods during the hearing, according to the Sun-Times. "You are a danger to society."
Court records revealed other gruesome details about the alleged abuse. According to the Chicago Tribune, the boy told police that Woods and her boyfriend would force him to sleep and go to the bathroom in the closet for long stretches, feeding him sporadically and never letting him go outside. His meals, when they came, consisted of cans of okra and protein shakes, prosecutors said. And to keep an eye on him while they weren't home, the couple allegedly installed video cameras in the apartment and monitored the footage on their cellphones.
Assistant State's Attorney Lorraine Scaduto said the court-appointed doctor who examined the boy told her he had never seen so many physical injuries on one person, the Tribune reported.
The 7-year-old boy and Woods's 2-year-old daughter have been in protective custody since last week, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services told the Tribune. The spokeswoman said the department is investigating Woods and her boyfriend for abuse and neglect, but has not previously had contact with the family.
Attorney information for Woods was not immediately available yesterday, and it was not clear whether she had entered a plea. Her next court date is October 28.
Neighbours in the high-rise condominium complex where Woods lived said they had no idea what was going on in the apartment. They described seeing Woods and her boyfriend in the halls of the building, but not talking with them.
"I heard a baby cry, that was all," one neighbor told DNAinfo, asking not to be named because the boyfriend had not been arrested. "I never saw the boy at all."
Ed O'Donnell, who identified himself as Woods's uncle, told DNAinfo that Woods's family did not trust the boyfriend because he appeared controlling, and said there were signs that the boy was being abused as early as 2012. He said Woods fell out of touch with her family sometime in 2013 over concerns that she mistreated her grandmother, who lives in a Chicago suburb. Around that time, he said, he lost contact with her.
O'Donnell said he remembered the 7-year-old as a "bright little boy, really happy, very friendly."
"I just want to see these two come to justice," he said.