Locked away for years by parents, a son speaks out for the first time

Mitt Comer, previously known as Mitch, said Thursday he hopes to become an inventor after completing his engineering degree at Kennesaw State University. (Photo: Alexis Stevens/astevens@ajc.com)
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Mitt Comer, previously known as Mitch, said Thursday he hopes to become an inventor after completing his engineering degree at Kennesaw State University. (Photo: Alexis Stevens/astevens@ajc.com)

Paulding teen was shipped to Los Angeles on a bus

He was a frail 87 pounds and looked much younger than his 18 years when a security guard in California spotted him. In September 2012, Mitch Comer had been put on a bus with $200, a list of Los Angeles homeless shelters and a copy of his birth certificate taped to his leg.

Today, he’s Mitt, a soft-spoken college student with dreams of becoming an engineer and inventor. For two years, his mother and stepfather kept him locked inside a bedroom in his family’s Paulding County rental home. He was shut off from the outside world and even his two younger sisters until he was dropped off at a bus station.

FROM 2012: Details emerge in boy's captivity

FROM 2012:  Victim is son, man says

The case made national headlines. The Comers claimed they were just trying to discipline the teen. They were each sentenced to 30 years, including 15 to serve in prison, as part of a plea deal.

Now, with his parents eligible for early parole, Mitt is speaking out publicly for the first time. In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, he said he can’t understand how they could be released after serving just five years behind bars.

“It wasn’t just me that that was a victim, it was the entire community,” Mitt said. “It was happening behind their back. My parents lied to their neighbors, they hid from other people, they didn’t seek help from the people that could have helped.”

Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan hoped the two would serve at least 12 years. But earlier this month, Donovan was shocked to learn the Comers will be eligible for early parole after serving only a third of the sentence.

“We frankly expected them to serve more and hopefully they will,” Donovan told The AJC on Thursday.

By law, the Comers are eligible for parole in September, according to a spokesman for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. Before making parole decisions, the Board notifies district attorneys in order to obtain updated information on case.

‘I feel myself blessed’

Donovan said he’s grown close to Mitt, and is thrilled at how far he’s come. Now 22, he still lives with the family that took him in after he was brought back to Paulding County. After missing two years of schooling, Mitt returned to class and graduated from high school in 2015.

Now he’s a student at Kennesaw State University. He was always drawn to electronics and likes to tinker with his car, so studying engineering just made sense. He hopes to become an inventor. In addition to his studies, he now works in Donovan’s office helping other victims.

“I feel myself blessed,” Mitt said.

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The Comers arrest left Paulding County reeling. Even next-door neighbors were shocked to learn how Mitt had been treated, and a community fundraiser was held in his honor at a Paulding park.

“Growing up the way I did, it didn’t seem like anybody really cared about other people all that much,” Mitt said. “(The community support) made me feel like the world’s a lot bigger than I thought. There’s good people out there.”

Donovan remains a staunch supporter. The prosecutor has already written letters urging the board to deny parole to the Comers, who have two teenage daughters that were adopted after their parents were sentenced.

“Letting them out after just five years just offends me as a prosecutor and I’m sure it would offend the people of Paulding County if they knew about it,” Donovan said.

‘He was left out for the wolves’

It was a former security guard that spotted the emaciated teenager wandering a Los Angeles bus station and called local police. Those investigators called the Paulding Sheriff’s Office, which sent a detective to California.

“He was left out for the wolves,” a now-former Paulding investigator said during a court hearing. “He would not have made it throughout the night.”

Mitch, investigators said, was malnourished and had skin so white, his veins were visible under his skin. He still had his baby teeth, leading investigators to believe he hadn’t had proper nourishment, and according to Mitch, he hadn’t.

While Mitch was still in California, detectives back in Georgia searched the two-story rental home where the Comers lived with two younger girls. The girls and their parents were all listed on the lease for the home near Dallas, but Mitch wasn’t. The day after Mitch was found, Paul and Sheila Comer were arrested.

Inside the home, there was evidence that the Comers no longer wanted reminders that Mitch existed. The teen’s face had been cut out of photographs.

‘They’re running from something’

Prior to moving to Paulding, the Comers had moved their family 12 times in 10 years, according to prosecutors. The family lived in as many as five states.

Investigators believed one move followed a Department of Family and Children Services investigation in 2009. In February of that year, DFCS referred the case to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office for additional investigation, but the case was closed and no criminal charges were filed. Specifics regarding the agencies’ investigations, including who reported the abuse, cannot be released due to privacy laws.

At a bond hearing, attorneys for the Comers argued that the couple be granted bond and given ankle monitors. But prosecutors called the couple a flight risk, and the judge agreed.

“They’re running from something, ” Donovan said outside the courthouse following the hearing.

But this time, the Comers wouldn’t be able to avoid the justice system.

‘He’s always going to have lost two years’

Mitt has a friend dealing with domestic violence in his home, and he’s encouraged him to seek help. He also knows there are other victims of crimes similar to the abuse he suffered. Mitt said he is an example of persevering and coming out stronger.

“There is a God looking out after all of us, and he might seem like, you might be praying to him and be like it seems like he’s saying ‘No,’” Mitt said. “But in the end he’s really saying ‘Yes’ to something better in the future.”

The future is now filled with his plans of earning a degree in electrical engineering technology. When he’s not in class or working, he’s like any other college student and enjoys spending time with his friends and girlfriend, who is studying dance.

He’s made amazing strides, Donovan said, but his past will always be a part of Mitt.

“He lost two years. He’s always going to have lost two years. He can’t get those back,” Donovan said. “And he is thriving in spite of all that.”

Mitt said he has tried to stay positive.

“A long time ago I heard about a dude that was left in a closet and he came out happy, and I said I’m going to be that dude, too,” he said.

“Every day I decide that I’m going to move forward.”

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