DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — A woman has been sentenced after forcing her 9-year-old step-son to live in a dog cage for months in Davidson County.

Sarah Starr, 30, along with the boy’s father, Jonathan Starr, and Shelley Lucille Barnes, the homeowner and Sarah Starr’s aunt, was arrested after deputies found the 9-year-old barefoot, wearing only a T-shirt and jeans, in a cage outside of a home on Crest Road on a night when temperatures reached below freezing. There was frost on the ground, according to deputies.


Child forced to live in ‘dog lot’

Read more crime news on MyFOX8.com

Sarah Starr, 30, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of child abuse causing serious physical injury on Tuesday. For two Class D felony charges, she received two consecutive active sentences of 54 to 77 months each, for a combined total of 108 to 154 months or 9 to 12 years. She also received an additional three consecutive sentences of 13 to 25 months for a Class G felony to be served as supervised probation.

Sarah Lynette Starr, Jonathan Scott Starr and Shelley Lucille Barnes (Davidson County Sheriff’s Office)

Judge Richard Gottleib ordered that Starr get a mental health assessment and that she follow any treatment plan and seek anger management counseling. She cannot contact the victim and must submit a DNA sample.  

Gottleib said he had never seen something so horrific. He said, as a parent, he was horrified and said the facts of the case will haunt him for the rest of his judicial career.

“I’m frankly speechless,” he said.

What deputies found

On Oct. 19, Davidson County deputies responded to a home in Lexington about reports of a 9-year-old boy locked in a dog kennel. Search warrants show that an anonymous person called 911 just before 7 a.m. who told them about the child and said that her husband had taken the child some food “in the past.”

When deputies found the child, they broke into the padlocked kennel to get to him to safety.

“There was some clothes that was there, just bits and pieces, a little bit of food was inside, but not enough to sustain warmth for this child,” Davidson County Sheriff Richie Simmons said during a press conference on Oct. 20, 2022.

They reported seeing Sarah Starr at the back door of the home holding an 8-month-old baby. They say she walked out of sight and turned the lights off. The deputies secured the 9-year-old and then forced entry into the home, where they detained Sarah Starr.

In addition to the 9-year-old child and 8-month-old baby, they found a 4-year-old underneath her bed. Starr’s two daughters, seven and eight years old, were at school at the time. All five of the children were taken into custody by the Department of Social Services, and, during a press conference, the sheriff’s office said that the children were in good health.

Sarah Starr, according to documents, told deputies she did not know the combination to the lock on the kennel and that only Barnes knew it.


Crime News

Read more crime news on MyFOX8.com

According to the warrant, Sarah Starr said she did not know the combination to the lock on the kennel and that only Barnes knew it. She knew that the child was being held in the dog kennel and told a detective that she and her husband, Jonathan Starr, were “upset about it.”

A man arrived at the scene on a four-wheeler and told deputies that the child had been in the kennel since at least 10:30 p.m. the night before. Warrants say that the man said he had brought the child a coat and snacks.

While EMS checked out the child, he said that he had been living outside since April.

The child also told a lieutenant that he did not have a room in the house “because he lived outside.”

“I’ve been in law enforcement 36 years,” Simmons said. “This is the first time I’ve seen something quite this significant to be honest with you.”


On Nov. 7, 2022, a grand jury returned a total of 19 indictments against Barnes, Jonathan Starr and Sarah Starr after hearing testimony from detectives. These charges were prepared after reviewing digital evidence and consulting with the district attorney.

More from FOX8

North Carolina News

See the latest North Carolina news

The boy’s father, Jonathan Starr, was charged with

  • Two counts of felony negligent child abuse inflicting serious mental/emotional injury
  • Felony child abuse inflicting serious physical injury

Sarah Starr was charged with

  • Seven counts of felony negligent child abuse inflicting serious mental/emotional injury
  • Misdemeanor child abuse
  • Three counts of felony child abuse inflicting serious physical injury

Barnes was charged with

  • Two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
  • Misdemeanor child abuse
  • Assault on a child under 12
  • Two counts of felony negligent child abuse inflicting serious mental/emotional injury