KANSAS CITY, Mo. - About four years ago, Nathan Ross began putting his story of survival down on paper.
At first, the now 23-year-old man spoke the words into a tape recorder. His grandmother transcribed the audio recording. After tweaks and edits, the story now lives in black and white.
Ross said that when the words stare back at him from the page, it's like looking into a mirror.
"I see the images in my head when I talk about it, but reading the images, it just makes it more real," Ross said.
Recently, Ross read part of his book-in-progress to 41 Action News.
"Most of the times, if we couldn't find a way to split what was in the garbage, we would just put the scrap back in the garbage. So, no one would have it," he read.
"She (Ross's mother) got so cruel that she used to make us come downstairs and watch them eat. She would tell us if we looked away, we were going to be beaten," he continued reading.
Ross's childhood was filled with what most would consider nightmares. Instead of letting the memories haunt his future, Ross has worked to move past them.
To date, he is a successful, married college graduate who advocates for children who find themselves in the foster system.
Ross's book is part of the healing process.
"(It's) something I really wanted to put my heart and soul into, so that people can understand where exactly children in the foster care system come from," he explained.
When Ross was about 6 years old, he remembers his mother, Mary Bass, beginning to starve and beat he and his four siblings.
She pitted one child's needs against the others. At times, Ross was manipulated into playing the role of the enforcer.
"I don't want to beat my brothers but at the same time, I don't want to be abused myself," he said.
Larry and Gary, two of Ross's younger triplet brothers, quickly became targets.
"She had me run the hot bath water that she used to scald my brothers, so I was in there watching them getting burned for the first minute before she kicked me out of the bathroom," Ross said, as he thought back to the horrific memories that sometimes come flooding back.
A week after he was forced to fill that bathtub, on October 20, 1999, Ross said he called 911.
That day, 8-year-old Larry died in their Kansas City home.
Police officers on the scene said they found Larry's lifeless body near his mother. They reported to media the boy could not have weighed more than 30 pounds.
Gary was found in a bed, emaciated.
Two days later, Gary died too.
Police said the boys died from starvation and burns that became infected.
Mary Bass is serving multiple life sentences for child abuse and second-degree murder.
"That image is always going to be in my head the rest of my life, seeing them in that bathtub," Ross said. "So, all of that guilt was weighing down on me."
The guilt still revisits sometimes. But Ross has overcome the odds and become a successful adult. He and his sister are part of an adoptive family with 26 children, some of whom are adults now.
He attributes being able to rebuild his life to his support system of foster and adoptive parents, therapists and mentors.
"Through proper guidance and proper resources, we can come out of those situations and really spread the word and say we are in desperate need of people to step up and say 'I want to be a support for you, I want to be a support for kids in the foster care system,'" he said.
Ross hopes the same type of support system will be offered to the 10-year-old little girl found last month, locked in a closet.
The reports of her living conditions and abuse have touched his heart.
"It's not all doom and gloom for her. She had now the chance for success, for survival to have a very great life coming ahead of her," Ross explained.
The director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties agreed.
"I would certainly hold out a great amount of hope for her to be able to recover from this," said Lois Rice.
She believes the girl will need years of professional help.
"I think it's the medical, psychological, the educational, dental, physical therapy, those whole team of people that will work together," Rice explained.
Rice and CASA have a message for the little girl whose successes today might include small steps like eating and talking: "There is a community of people there who do care about you, which I think certainly has been evidenced by the attention and heartstrings that her situation has brought forth."
Attention is good, but help is even better. There have to be enough people and resources to fill the need for abused children.
Ross sees that need first hand at his job with Midwest Foster Care and Adoption. On a daily basis, he works to find programs and services for youth in the foster care system as they transition from adulthood.
The ever-present need is part of the reason Ross decided to share his stories with readers everywhere.
"That it would inspire people to look at their lives and ask 'How can I make
a difference?' and then for the kids who are going through some of those same things. I want them to see it gets better," Ross said.
Ross hopes the manuscript will be ready for an editor this fall. Then, it will be sent to a publisher. Stay with 41 Action News for updates on when this book is expected to hit shelves.
Volunteers and donations are desperately needed to help abused children. Log onto any of the below links to learn how you could help today:
Nathan Ross Web Site: http://resiliencerising.com/
CASA of Wyandotte and Johnson Counties: http://www.casajwc.org/
CASA of Jackson County: http://jacksoncountycasa-mo.org/
Cornerstones of Care: http://www.cornerstonesofcare.org/
Midwest Foster Care and Adoption: http://www.mfcaa.org/
TFI Family Services: http://www.tfifamilyservices.org/
If you witness a child being abused or suspect child abuse in a home, school or church, call the Missouri Abuse Hotline at 1-800-392-3738.