Four malnourished mentally disabled adults were found chained to a boiler in a locked basement room that was too small for an adult to stand up straight, police in Philadelphia say.

Three people were arrested.

Officers were investigating a report of squatters in a building when they found three men and a woman in a 4.5-by-4.5-metre room behind a steel door that was chained shut.

The subbasement room they were in called to mind a Cold War-era bomb shelter and contained a makeshift bed, mattress and sheets, said Officer Tanya Little, a police spokeswoman.

“It was horrible,” she said. “The space was very tiny and confined.”

A Texas man and two Philadelphia residents were arrested and police spokesman Lt. Raymond Evers told The Philadelphia Inquirer that charges including kidnapping, conspiracy, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment were pending.

Police are investigating the possibility that the suspects were trying to make money through access to the victims’ Social Security or disability checks, Little said. It wasn’t clear how they know the victims.

The 29-year-old woman and the men, who are 31, 35, and 41, have the mental capacity of 10-year-olds, police said.

They were taken to a hospital for treatment and listed in stable condition. Little said the victims appeared to have no physical problems other than malnourishment.

Little said that getting information from the victims had been difficult due to their disability, but they apparently had been brought to Philadelphia about 10 days before they were found. They had apparently been in West Palm Beach, Florida, and before that in Texas, she said.

“It’s heartbreaking that people can do such horrifying things to other people,” she said.

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