The fact that I had to type that headline is enough to make me want to turn in my humanity card.
Around noon on May 26, 2020, police in Annville, Pennsylvania discovered the emaciated body of 12-year-old Maxwell Schollenberger in his family’s home at 30 South White Oak Street. Max was found naked and smeared with feces, slumped across a filthy bed in a bedroom with feces caked on every surface. The human waste covering the room was so old, it had begun to grow mold. The bedroom in which he was held captive had no lights, and the shades covering the windows had been secured closed with duct tape. The bedroom door was locked from the outside with three metal hooks, and the windows were secured shut with screws.
A news release from the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office read, “Claw marks appeared in the victim’s sheets. Such marks made indentations on the stained feces… Max Schollenberger’s bedroom was entirely devoid of light and furniture, aside from the bed wherein he died. The bedroom’s windows contained shades and doors. The shades were taped to the window frames and the doors were screwed shut; the window coverings rendered the child unable to see in or out.”
Immediately, due to the conditions in the home, police requested help from the Lebanon County Detective Bureau.
Max was described as “very thin,” his stomach bloated. At the time of his death, he weighed a scant 47.5 pounds, which is about half the average weight of a boy his age, and he was also about eight inches shorter than the average for his age. He had next to no muscle mass, and his bones had weakened due to malnutrition. Investigators believed he would have been too weak to walk or even stand. By the time he died, his body had wasted away to the point where he could no longer have digested food. He had also suffered head trauma.
The second floor of the home was ripe with the odor of human waste. The only furniture in the room with Max was the soiled bed on which he died; there were no toys, and any clothing present was covered in feces. A red plastic cup near the bed contained about an inch of water.
During their investigation, police discovered that Max’s father, 42-year-old Scott Fremont Schollenberger Jr., and Scott’s fiancee, 35-year-old Kimberly Marie Maurer, were also raising other children, three of whom were the couple’s biological children and were under the age of 5. Two, who appeared to live in the home part of the time, were Kim’s teenagers from a previous relationship. All of those kids “appeared to be healthy, well-adjusted and cared for. They went to school. They went to the doctor. They did the typical things between a parent and child.”
Max, on the other hand, had not been seen by a doctor in ten years and was not enrolled in school. Even his siblings, who lived in the same house, rarely saw him; in fact, Scott and Kim had ordered the children not to speak to Max.
Max’s siblings “reported hardly ever seeing the victim prior to his death,” the documents read. “Some of [the defendants’] family and friends also reported not seeing the victim in quite some time and some were not even aware of his existence.”
When the other children were interviewed, one mentioned that when Scott and Kim would enter Max’s room, he would scream and cry.
Neighbor Nicolas Rivera said he occasionally saw Scott or Kim outside the home with the other children, but no one living nearby even knew the couple had another child. “I’ve been here for three years,” Rivera said. “I have neighbors who have been here ten years, and they didn’t know they had another kid.”
The day before Max’s body was found, Rivera said, “Memorial Day they had a big family picnic. There was maybe 20 people, coming in and out of the house all the time. There was a pool set up for the kids in the backyard and everything. Some older people were there, maybe the grandparents or something. I don’t know.”
Authorities said that Kim had been a “caregiver” for Max since he was two years old; I’d like to imagine they were using the term “caregiver” sarcastically. Kim even told police that she, not Scott, was Max’s caregiver because her husband “expressed extreme frustration” toward his son and was afraid of hurting him.
Both the boy’s father and stepmother denied Max had any mental or physical disorders. However, one Facebook commenter claiming to know the family said, “Scott said [Max] had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. And he was clearly emotionally and developmentally delayed. But he was a sweet kid.”
Max’s death was ultimately ruled a homicide caused by “blunt force trauma complicating starvation/malnutrition.”
Scott and Kim were finally arrested on the evening of Friday, September 11. Court records indicate they were arraigned at 10:00 PM the same night. They have each been charged with homicide and conspiracy to commit homicide, both first degree felonies, as well as two second-degree felonies, endangering the welfare of a child by a parent and conspiracy to commit the same. They are being held in the Lebanon County Correctional Facility without bail.
Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf gave a press conference about Max’s case on the morning of Monday, September 14, saying that in her 11 years as a prosecutor, she had never seen anything like Max’s horrific treatment and demise.
“This is a little boy, 12 years old, who died alone in the dark, covered in his own human waste,” she said. “He’s a little boy that died starving, that died internally bleeding, that died suffering. The images of that child in the bed, the way that he died, those images go home with you. They go home with me. They go home with our investigators. We will carry this forever.”
Graf told reporters a neighbor led police to discover Max’s body.
“To protect the investigation and the neighbor’s identity, all I’m going to say is that it’s a neighbor to the residents who had been in contact with one of the defendants,” Graf said. That neighbor called 911 on May 26, after which police found Max’s body locked inside the dark, feces-covered bedroom.
“One thing that we always look at in a malnutrition or starvation case, whether it’s an adult, a disabled person, a child, we look to see if there was sufficient food there,” said Graf. “There was. There was an abundance of food in the kitchen cabinets, the refrigerator, the freezer.”
She said Max was fed scraps from his siblings’ plates, although she did not specify how often Max was given food or water.
Why was CYS not involved? Police were never contacted about any crime or suspected child abuse going on in the home. No one outside the home could see into Max’s bedroom, because the windows were covered and sealed shut. “There would have been nothing to trigger a Children and Youth investigation,” Graf said.
Max was Scott’s biological son, but not Kim’s; his biological mother did not have custody of him, although she has had some contact with investigators.
“She was not coming for visitation or taking him for overnights, obviously,” Graf said. “And the defendant Scott Schollenberger had been the everyday presence in terms of the biological parents. He had been the one that child had lived with.”
Someone who knew Scott posted on Facebook, “…Scott and Kim had a habit of moving constantly, never forwarded mail, switched up prepaid phones… They would cut contact from anyone that asked questions or wouldnt ‘help’ them. They were really good at isolating themselves.”
The same man posted in the Justice for Max Facebook group, “Only posting this to help keep the batshit theories and false information down.
“This is info gained whilst Kim, Scott, and Max lived with us in the fall of 2012.
“We took them in after they left an appt in Robesonia, claiming they were kicked out without notice. Kim and my wife were friends all through school, and my wife, whose heart is bigger than a Buick, offered to take them in until they found something.
“So they moved in. We bought them furniture, clothes, food, etc. Max was a super sweet kid. According to Scott, he had custody of Max because his mother was in and out of jail and rehab. Scott told us Max had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Beside that, Max was clearly emotionally and developmentally delayed. His behaviour was very influenced by that, and would frustrate Scott to no end.
“It became clear that Scott was domineering, and emotionally abusive towards Kim. We tried to talk to her, tried to help her and council her, but she rebuffed all attempts. One night Scott had a drunken episode where we discovered he was actually AWOL from the PA National Guard, in posession of a ‘borrowed’ handgun, and he proceeded to make a scene in front of our old place in downtown Hershey, resulting in the Derry Twp police showing up. He then drunkenly threatened to kill said police, and at this point the Guard showed up, having been called by Kim. They took him away, and the next day we tried to talk to Kim, but she basically told us to mind our business, and she moved out.
“We continued to recieve their mail for almost a year, because they never forward it. After talking to others who know Kim, it turns out this was their MO. Get what assistance they can, move on and cut contact. This is why we never had any idea what was going on. They isolate themselves and block people from the knowledge of their very existence.
“Scott was clearly an abuser with emotional disturbances, and kim was clearly your stereotypical abused spouse who refuses to leave. The situation sucks bags of dicks. Max wasn’t a bad kid, he just needed help, we tried…”
Scott’s mother, Lorie, recently posted a few photos of Max on her Facebook page, the photos time stamped 2011. In her posts, Lorie referred to herself and her husband as “Nana” and “Pop Pop.”
A cousin of Scott’s made a poignant post on September 15, along with a few photos of Max as a little boy. “While I am not usually one to continuously and publicly post about my emotions or private family matters, I feel as though there is a large hole in my chest where my heart used to be. Max used to come to my family’s house every weekend while his father was at trainings for the National Guard. Scott used to love his son so strongly that he would cry because he knew he would miss him so much while he was at his job. Max used to run down the foyer of my family’s home and into Scott’s arms each time he came to pick him up. It is haunting to have these memories and know how their relationship changed.
“About seven years ago, Scott told my parents that he was struggling financially, emotionally, etc and my parents offered to take Max in. He was due to start kindergarten later that fall, but after that day we never saw Max again. 7 years passed and we never heard from Scott or Kim, and had no idea where they were living or what had become of their family. To all of the people all over the nation wondering why family members didn’t do more- we couldn’t. Scott came from a broken family himself and followed in his father’s footsteps by cutting off all and any communication with us. I was thirteen and had been blocked on Facebook by my own cousin. It pains me to know that we tried, we tried to bring Max into a safe and loving home where he ate popsicles, played with Thomas the Train, and played baseball outside in the back yard. Scott was too prideful to let us take Max, so much so that that is why we never heard from him again. So, please just know that we did try, and if we had known where they were we would have done everything we could have to save that poor little boy.
“Max might not have even remembered the time he spent in my family’s home, but he certainly changed our lives for the better and we will cherish our memories of him for a lifetime. While these pictures are from when Max was about 3-5 years old, please put a face to his name. This was Maxwell Schollenberger, and for at least a portion of his life he was most certainly loved.”
Max’s younger siblings are safe, Graf said, and Children and Youth Services is involved.
Max’s mother also posted on Facebook about the situation, saying on June 13, “It took ten days for someone to contact me to tell me my 12 year old son was dead. It wasn’t until two days later that I learned he’d already been cremated and I would never have the chance to hold him or say goodbye. Now its looking like I’m going to have to get the courts involved to get any kind of answers and access to his remains, if they haven’t already been disposed of. If I ever wondered what my personal Hell would be like, I’m living it now. I’m so sorry, Maxwell. I love you more than anything in this world and I truly thought I was doing what was best for you. I was so wrong.”
According to court records, it doesn’t appear Scott Schollenberger or Kimberly Maurer have been in legal trouble before, aside from evidently being evicted by a landlord in 2016. The couple had evidently owned the home where Max died since a real estate transfer took place in October of 2017.
On July 9, however, Scott was charged with simple assault by Annville Police. Word in the Facebook groups dedicated to Max is that Scott was arrested for hitting Kim. He was out on bail from that charge when he was arrested for Max’s murder. There is no word on the circumstances of the assault, and the trial for that charge is scheduled to take place in November.
If Max’s body was found in May, you might wonder, why was no one arrested until September? Graf said, “There are nuances to this. You have a child who was starved, who suffered malnutrition who presented very uniquely. This isn’t a gunshot wound or a stabbing wound. This is something very different.
Throughout the summer, detectives continued their investigation, speaking to friends and family members of the defendants and their children. A forensic autopsy was completed on Max’s body at Lehigh Valley Hospital on June 1 by Dr. Michael W. Johnson, MD, PhD. The results of the autopsy took a while to complete, because on top of the intense examination by a pathologist, other experts had to be called in to review the case.
At the time of his arrest, Scott was unemployed, and Kim apparently attempted to make money by shilling Scentsy products on Facebook. Many online comments have centered around that, wondering how many Scentsy items she must have used in her own home to cover up the smell of human waste emanating from the second floor.
“Max Schollenberger existed,” Graf said. “I will not call this living. He existed in a state of perpetual suffering; he existed in the most egregious and foul of conditions. He remained starved, locked away, and isolated until his killing. The child never looked forward to his first day of school, blew out candles on a birthday cake, or experienced the unconditional love of family. Max Schollenberger died in soiled sheets, covered in his own feces.”
She added, “To have a 12-year-old child, a gift to this world, left in that condition, treated in that manner for such a substantial period of time, it’s one of the worst, if not the worst I’ve ever seen.”
There is no indication whatsoever as to why Max was singled out, held captive in a dark bedroom, beaten, and starved, and Graf could not discuss a motive in Max’s death. What we do know from prior cases, however, is that scapegoated children frequently experience such “targeted child abuse” as a result of having special needs or difficult behaviors.
Although the death penalty cannot be sought because, according to the Penn Live Patriot-News, the case does not meet the legal criteria, Graf said, “The utter despair that was Max Schollenberger’s life begs for justice for his death.”
Scott Schollenberger and Kimberly Maurer were arraigned on their charges on September 11. A preliminary hearing for both is scheduled for 8:00 AM on September 24 before Magisterial District Judge John W. Ditzler, at which time I imagine their cases will be moved up to the court of common pleas.
This evening (Wednesday, September 16, 2020) from 8:00 PM until 8:12, citizens of Annville and beyond were invited to turn on their porch lights for 12 minutes — one for every year of Max’s life — “so that Max knows there is light in the world for him,” according to the event page on Facebook, where participants posted photos of their houses lit up in memory of Max.
Also from 8:00 to 8:12 PM, the United Church of Christ in Annville rang its bells 12 times in memory of Max. “Pause, reflect and say the Lord’s Prayer as we join in community to remember Max,” said a post on the church’s Facebook page this afternoon.
Max came into this world on December 8, 2007. He was born within days of my younger son. This one is hitting me hard.
Rest in peace and out of suffering, Max. You are loved more than you ever knew.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Max’s story.
Sources: NBC4, Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal, Penn Live Patriot-News, Lebanon Daily News, Facebook, New York Post, WGAL 8, Fox43, Pocono Record, Law & Crime, Justice for Max Schollenberger & Case Discussion Facebook group, Justice for Max Facebook group