Chances are you’ve walked past a homeless person without a second thought. It takes no effort to ignore someone in need, after all, especially those who are strangers. But what if, when faced with helping someone you didn’t know, one simple act could save his or her life?

That’s the situation one Ohio caretaker faced when an ordinary job interview became an opportunity to rescue a handful of individuals from a terrifying fate. Time was of the essence, and the caretaker was forced to make a difficult decision that put both his career and nearly a dozen lives on the line…

In October of 2003, Carlyle Smith made his way to Norwalk, Ohio, to visit the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle. The Gravelles were in need of an extra caretaker to help care for their adopted children, and, given his wide range of experience, Smith felt he was perfect for the job.

YouTube / Dr. Phil

As a home-care specialist, Smith was already familiar with proper home etiquette, and his years spent coaching youth sports gave him all the tools he needed to manage a house full of kids. Sure, the Gravelles had 11 of them, but after leading teams of up to 30 young athletes at a time, how hard could it really be?


When Smith arrived at the small suburban home, he was met by Michael and Sharen, who gave him a tour of the place before introducing him to their children. The house was nothing special, but there was one peculiar aspect that Smith couldn’t get over: at the Gravelles’ behest, he was forbidden from going upstairs.


The Gravelles brought Smith to the backyard to meet the kids, but before he could introduce himself, the job interview took a disturbing turn. To Smith’s disgust, Sharen used racially charged language to address the children. 

YouTube / Dr. Phil

The interview became even more bizarre as Michael led Smith to a run-down “chapel” in the back of the property. There, Michael revealed to Smith that he considered himself to be Moses to his children, dutifully leading them to the “promised land”.

By this time, Smith had heard enough, but before he had a chance to leave, one of the little boys accidentally wet himself in front of the Gravelles. Sharen was furious, but she didn’t tell him to go to his room: instead, she told him to go to his cage.

Dr. Phil

Smith wasn’t sure if he’d heard her right, but Michael quickly cleared up any doubt by remarking on the quality of the alarms rigged to the children’s cages. He also quipped about the strength of the chicken wire around their bunk beds, citing the cuts on the kids’ fingers as an indication of their escape attempts.

Dr. Phil / YouTube

The four-hour interview ended in just 30 minutes as Smith turned down the job on the spot. After putting a few miles between himself and the Gravelles, Smith pulled onto the side of the road and began sobbing. He couldn’t just leave those children in that place.

Smith took his concerns to his work supervisor, who reached out to Child Protective Services to schedule a meeting. After explaining everything he had seen and heard that day to the agent, Smith was confident that CPS would act to remove the children from the Gravelle’s care. Unfortunately, he was wrong.

According to the agent, Smith’s testimony wasn’t enough to justify an investigation of the Gravelle home, and CPS would “look into” the case in the future. Smith was distraught. What would become of the Gravelle children now? It would be nearly three years before Smith got his answer.

Toledo Blade

On a fall morning in 2006, Smith got a call from Child Protective Services and was delivered some shocking news: Michael and Sharen Gravelle had been arrested. Apparently, a CPS agent had come across Smith’s report from 2003 and finally uncovered the abuse occurring at the Gravelle home.

Toledo Blade

A lengthy trial followed the Gravelles’ arrest, and Smith, along with a number of witnesses, testified to the cruelty the 11 children had been subjected to at the hands of their adoptive parents. Though Michael and Sharen tried to justify their actions, the Ohio couple’s days of child abuse were over.

Houston Chronicle

In the end, Michael and Sharen were each given two years in prison for two-dozen counts of child endangerment and neglect. But although the Gravelle children were finally free from their abusers, their struggle to overcome years of trauma wasn’t finished just yet.

Another round of legal battles ensued between several Ohio counties and the children’s lawyers, who claimed the county adoption and child welfare services were at fault for placing the children with Michael and Sharen in the first place. After 10 years of fighting, the Gravelle children were awarded a total of $3 million to be put toward rebuilding their lives.

Norwalk Reflector

The story of the “caged kids” made national headlines, and it wasn’t long before people wondered what had become of them now that the nightmare was over. One of those people was Dr. Phil, and he was determined to provide closure for the deserving children… and give them a surprise they’d never forget.

On a 2017 episode of Dr. Phil, two of the Gravelle children, Simon and Abba, joined Dr. Phil to discuss their years of trauma and their life after the ordeal. Through it all, however, the children couldn’t help but mention the kind stranger that had saved them from a lifetime of torment.

Dr. Phil / YouTube

“If he was here right now, I would gladly give him the biggest hug ever and tell him that I love him,” Simon said of Smith, whom neither he nor Abba had seen in the almost 12 years. It was then Dr. Phil shocked everyone with just four little words: “let’s make that happen.”

Dr. Phil / YouTube

Right on cue, Smith emerged from backstage! No sooner did they see him that Simon and Abba rushed over to embrace the man that rescued them all those years ago. The tearful reunion was punctuated by sobs of “thank you,” and it was clear to everyone in the audience how much this man meant to the two teens.

Dr. Phil / YouTube

“This is a real man right here,” Simon said to the audience as the trio reflected on the events that had led them to this moment. “He saved my life. He saved her life.”

Dr. Phil / YouTube

As for Smith, seeing Simon and Abba for the first time in over a decade was definitely more worthwhile than he’d ever imagined. “It’s absolutely amazing [to see you],” Smith said as he wiped his own tears away. “I’m so proud of you guys.”

Dr. Phil / YouTube

Despite being a stranger to these children, Smith cared enough to take action against their abusers. He truly is a hero.

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