Donations pour in to assist Joshua Tree family living in squalor

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Feature photo: San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department 
Below photo by Brian Rokos (cropped to fit format), Desert Sun


Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun

March 3, 2018

Photo video

Friends of a Joshua Tree family of five separated after law enforcement found them living in squalid conditions have started online fundraisers with a goal to raise more than $100,000 to get the family a house.

Daniel Panico, 73, and Mona Kirk, 51, were arrested Wednesday after San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies reported finding the children living in substandard conditions on a trash-slewn lot Panico owns in the 7000 block of Sunfair Road.

Panico and Kirk were arraigned in San Bernardino County Superior Court on Friday, each pleading not guilty to three counts of child abuse. They are being held on $300,000 bail each.

Their children, ages 11, 13 and 14, were taken by Child Protective Services.

They were placed together in a foster home, Yucca Valley resident and family friend Marsha Custodio said, though Panico’s sister – who has a home outside the area – is trying to get them placed in her care until the family can be reunited.

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Sheriff’s officials initially stated the children were found living in a “box” on the property among mounds of trash with no electricity or running water. The department later corrected the information, saying they were living in a makeshift shelter made of plywood.

 They also said the children appeared to be malnourished, but people who know the family have contended the children are well-cared for and are being home-schooled.

“This is not a case of abuse, but a homeless family being punished for being homeless,” Custodio said.


On Saturday, family friend Jackie Klear set up a GoFundMe pagefor the family and within 18 hours, 76 people had donated a total of $4,638.

Many wrote comments of support for the family.

“I am so sorry for their pain. I hope that they can get some help with their living conditions as well as get their children back!” Paige Caliva wrote.

“Praying for them,” Tammy Towles wrote.

Leanna Munroe, of Yucca Valley, has also started a GoFundMe account, with a goal of $5,000. The two accounts will ultimately be joined together as one, Munroe said.

“It’s so nice to see the community coming together” for the family, said Munroe, who has known Panico and Kirk for about nine years.

“It’s unfortunate that this is happening,” Munroe said, adding that the family has always been ready to help others – including herself – when they have needed it.

Friends are not limiting their support to fundraisers.

“We will hold a rally of love and support at the CPS office in Yucca Valley” at 10 a.m. Monday, said Custodio, who befriended Kirk in October through Phoenix Scouts.

 “Her son and my son are friends,” Custodio said, but she had no idea they were homeless, saying Kirk was embarrassed by their situation.

“She (Kirk) told us they were living in an RV in Joshua Tree,” Custodio said. “I assumed it was in an RV park.”

Friends also plan to show their support by gathering at the Morongo courthouse in Yucca Valley on Tuesday, when the couple is scheduled for another hearing at 8:30 a.m. in Department M1.

Another mission of the group: Remove the trash from the property where the family was living, and the local Chamber of Commerce said it is ready to help.

“We are putting together a team to go clean up the land,” said Kristin Burkins, Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce president/CEO. “We have an amazing community and this really hits us hard.”

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the Joshua Tree family.

Set up by Jackie Klear:

Set up by Leanna Munroe:

link to photos and Desert Sun


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