Judd: Teen saved her own life by escaping abuse

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A 17-year-old girl who was found in the woods after escaping her life of abuse is responding well to treatment at the hospital, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Monday.

The girl, who was not identified, was found stabbed, beaten, and starved, by strangers in the woods in Dundee about a mile from her home. A woman nearby called 911 and the girl was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center to be treated after deputies and EMS responded.

The girl had a stab wound, broken shoulder, infected sores on the top of her feet, bruises, and was malnourished, resulting in hair loss, deputies say.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office says the girl gave accounts of being beaten for several months with a metal pipe. She also said she was stabbed with a pocketknife, kicked with metal-studded boots and hit with a TV cable. She said she was not allowed to take a bath or use the restroom since last March.

"Ladies and gentlemen, i can't imagine where you would starve a child, beat a child, break a child's arm, use a child for a punching bag, but that's what we saw," Judd said.

Two adults were charged in relation to the abuse: 33-year-old Melissa Peters and 45-year-old Kris Peters. Their relationship to the victim was not provided by investigators.

The couple kept their cabinets locked up, Judd said, and would occasionally give the teen a Pop Tart. Deputies say the girl was 86 pounds when they found her, and after several days of being in the hospital, she has already gained 11 pounds because she's eating again.

The girl is going to have to go through several surgeries on her shoulder and her feet, but she would not have survived much longer if she didn't escape, Judd said.

"She ran through the woods for a mile to stay alive and it was unbelievable," Judd said. "It has shaken our most experienced detectives to the soul."

There was also a 15-year-old boy living in the home at the time, who was not abused, deputies said.

Melissa Peters is being held in jail on $251,000 bond and Kris Peters is being held on $36,000 bond.