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Skylar Neese Death: Body found in Pennsylvania is missing West Virginia teen, federal officials say

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Crimesider Staff
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Daily Blotter
 

Undated photo of Skylar Neese

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(CBS/AP) WHEELING, W.Va. – A body discovered in southwestern Pennsylvania was identified as that of a missing 16-year-old girl who disappeared from West Virginia last summer, federal officials said Wednesday.

PICTURES: Body of W.Va. teen found in Pa.

 

 

Remains found in Wayne Township, Pa. on Jan. 16 were confirmed as those of Skylar Neese of Star City, W.Va., said U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld, top prosecutor for West Virginia’s northern district. The FBI did tests on her remains and now an investigation into her death is under way.

Skylar was last seen on surveillance video leaving her family’s apartment and getting into a car on July 6, 2012. Her remains were found less than 30 miles from there in Greene County.

Her parents celebrated her 17th birthday without her last month, holding a candlelight vigil with both friends and strangers. The crowd released heart-shaped paper lanterns, which floated into the sky. Her aunt, Carol Michaud, told The Dominion Post that the teenager was an environmentalist, and she would have preferred them to balloons.

Skylar was an honors student at University High in Morgantown, and friends at the event described her as bubbly and kind.

A legislator from the family’s district also recently introduced a bill called Skylar’s Law to ensure that missing children’s cases are handled with urgency. It would modify West Virginia’s Amber Alert plan to issue public announcements when any child is reported missing and thought to be in danger, rather than just those believed to have been kidnapped.

Because Neese was seen getting into a vehicle, family members said authorities classified her as a runaway and no alert was issued. But they believe the girl intended to return, noting that she didn’t take money, contact lenses or other personal items.

Delegate Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia, said she understands that a surge in alerts might make some people stop paying attention, but she believes it’s still the right thing to do.

Last week, an emotional David Neese appealed to the House Judiciary Committee on his daughter’s behalf before it amended and advanced the measure.

“Changing this law, God forbid, may be too late for Skylar,” he said, fighting back sobs. “But please allow for this bill to be debated on the floor so other families may not have to go through this horrible ordeal.”

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Body of W.Va. teen found in Pa.

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Hailey Dunn is 15 years old and has been missing from Colorado City Texas since Dec 27th 2010 when she was 13 years old. 
UPDATE:  Remains have been found in Scurry County which is about 4 hours away from Colorado City in Mitchell County where Hailey Dunn is from. The FBI has been called in and authorities from Mitchell County. Currently, there is NO indication whatsoever that it is Hailey Dunn. If you are interested in learning more and/or to read the article and posts regarding this new information you can go to the below link. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hailey-Dunn-Updates-Discussion/210253018991815
We will keep you posted on this new information.

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Most recent abuse cases

This archive contains cases of abuse of children within the child placement system.

Some of the these children have been killed, other’s survived but suffered from:

In several cases the abuse was hidden from authorities under the pretext of homeschooling.

For an overview of abuse cases by location, see this map.

To make this list as complete as possible we can use your help. If you know of cases not covered, or know of articles not listed with the cases, please subscribe to this group and help maintain this section of the website or send links and articles to this mail address.

Girl adopted by Jerome Mitchell and Hermina Ibarra

4-year-old girl adopted by Jerome Mitchell and Hermina Ibarra was allegedly abused by the couple. There also appeared to be signs of sexual abuse.
Date: 2013-01-16
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother

Location

Prescott, Arizona
United States

See map: Google Maps

Two children adopted by Ingrid Brewer

Palmdale resident Ingrid Brewer reported to the sheriff’s department that her two adoptive children were missing on January 15. Deputies searching for the children, an 8-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl, found them lying near a parked vehicle on a street near their residence hiding under a blanket. The children were not wearing warm clothing despite temperatures in the mid-20s.

The two children told deputies they ran away from Brewer because they were tired of being tied up and beaten by her. They told deputies that Brewer locked them up in separate bedrooms when she went to work every day, and that on numerous occasions she tied their wrists with zip-ties and beat them, sometimes with an electrical cord or a hammer. They were also reportedly deprived of food.

Both kids had injuries consistent with their descriptions of abuse, including wrist marks indicating zip-tie restraint.

Date: 2013-01-15
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal neglect, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive mother
Home schooling: yes

Placement

Organizations: Aspiranet

Location

United States

Baby Girl in foster case with Wilson Lee Tubbs III

5 month old girl died after being abused by Wilson Lee Tubbs III, aka Josh Tubbs. She had 2 skull fractures and numerous bruises after being in the home about 5 weeks. Tubbs’ wife was related to the baby girl’s parents
Date: 2012-12-02
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Foster father

Location

Fort Bragg, California
United States

See map: Google Maps

Teenage foster girl in Newcastle NSW

A teen-aged girl in New South Wales Australia was sexually abuse by her 65 year old foster father.
Date: 2012-11-30
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Foster father

Location

Newcastle, New South Wales
Australia

Children adopted by Nikki and Larry Russell

At least 3 of 4 children adopted from foster care by Nikki and Larry Russell were beaten, duct taped to their beds and deprived food.The 93 lb 17 year old was not in school, IcyHot was applied to his genitals and in his rectum. Russells also had a 5th biological child in the home.
Date: 2012-11-27
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal neglect, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother

Location

Terre Haute, Indiana
United States

See map: Google Maps

Primary school-aged foster girl in Newcastle, Australia

A primary school-aged foster girl is raped by an employee of Family and Community Services, whose job it was to protect her.
Date: 2012-11-23
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Other non-family member

Location

Newcastle, New South Wales
Australia

Girls adopted by Tiffany and Dennis Jack

2 girls adopted by Tiffany J Jack and Lt Col Dennis E Jack were hit with spatulas, tied to potty chairs and required to do extreme exercises with soiled diapers on their heads. At least 3 other children were in the home.
Date: 2012-11-19
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother

Location

Niceville, Florida
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girl adopted by Silver Springs Shores couple

A girl adopted by her great aunt and her husband was sexually abuse from age 6 until age 16. The man was about 77 years old when the abuse started. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Date: 2012-11-15
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father

Location

Silver Springs Shores, Florida
United States

See map: Google Maps

Alexander Laws

Ten days after being removed from his parent’s care, 2.5 year old Alexander Laws was hospitalized with injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome. Foster mother Kasondra Martinsen left Alexander and a 6 year old foster child with her friend 21 year old Osbaldo “Nanno” Sanchez while she worked. Osbaldo Sanchez was not an approved child care provider, and he did not seek medical care for the child after he injured him.
Date: 2012-11-10
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal neglect
Abuser: Other non-family member

Homestudy

Organizations: Nevada Department of Human Resources, (Clark County Department of Family Services)

Placement

Location

Las Vegas, Nevada
United States

See map: Google Maps

Children adopted by Paul and JoAnn Drake

Paul Alan Drake and JoAnn Marie Drake are accused of locking their 13-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son in the basement for three to four weeks. The teens were fed by sliding a plate under the door and were allowed them out only to attend school. 3 other adopted children were not imprisoned.
Date: 2012-11-08
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother

Location

Ankeny, Iowa
United States

See map: Google Maps

Boy adopted by Mona and Russell Hauer

8 year old boy adopted along with 2 siblings was beaten and fed a liquid only diet by Russell and Mona Hauer. He weighed 35 lbs, the size of a 4 year old. His bones were protruding and he had a swollen belly. Prior to adoption, the Hauers were advised he had suffered trauma and should be provided therapy. He was normal weight at that time. Less than 2 months outside the home, the boy had gained 15 lbs and 2 inches in height.
Date: 2012-11-06
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother
Home schooling: yes

Placement

Organizations: likely Nicollet County Social Services or Le Sueur County Human Services

Location

North Mankato, Minnesota
United States

See map: Google Maps

Boy in foster care of Sharanda Hammock

11 year old boy in foster care had burns on his legs and genitals and was dehydrated. His foster mother Sharanda Hammock and her girlfriend Cecily Sharp were charged with second-degree battery and permitting child abuse.
Date: 2012-11-04
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Foster mother, Other non-family member

Location

Fayetteville, Arkansas
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girl adopted by Dorothea Vega

Girl was beaten, confined in a room and given large amounts of psychotropic drugs and prevented from bathing.
Date: 2012-11-02
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive mother

Location

Pensacola, Florida
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girls adopted by Flagstaff AZ man

12 and 15 year old girls allegedly molested by 51 year old adoptive father in Timberline subdivision of Flagstaff, Arizona.
Date: 2012-11-02
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father

Location

flagstaff, Arizona
United States

See map: Google Maps

Logan Garrett and his twin sister

Logan Garrett
22 month old boy Logan Edward Garrett was adopted along with his twin sister by Jacky Scott Garrett and Emily Garrett. Logan died of blunt force trauma to his abdomen, about 7 months after placement, 1 week after adoption. He had many prior injuries. His sister was underweight and removed from the home. Adoptive father Scott Garrett was charged with capital murder.
Date: 2012-10-22
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive father

Placement

Organizations: a “private adoption arranged with the help of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Frisco”

Location

Frisco, Texas
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girls adopted by Hickory Hill couple

4 girls adopted by a Hickory Hill (Memphis) Tennessee family were raped by their adoptive father over 12 years. Their adoptive mother was aware of at least one incident and did nothing.The father is charged with 14 crimes including rape and rape of a child. The mother is charged with trying to obstruct the report.

Date: 2012-10-19
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother

Location

Hickory Hill, Tennessee
United States

See map: Google Maps

Children adopted by Gregory Bernard Lacy and LaQuron D. McLean Lacy

Seven children, under the age of 11, adopted by Gregory Bernard Lacy and LaQuron D. McLean Lacy were sexually and physically abused by their adoptive parents.The Lacy’s had an in-house strip club where parties were held in the children’s presence. The children were hit with fists, belts, hangers and metal objects and one of the girls was molested by her adoptive father.

Date: 2012-10-12
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother

Location

Perris, California
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girl adopted by Rajesh Sengar and Bebi Sengar

5-year-old girl adopted by Rajesh Sengar and Bebi Sengar was killed by her adoptive parents. Post mortem reports revealed the girl was sexually assaulted too.
Date: 2012-09-28
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse, Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother

Location

Indore, Madhya Pradesh
India

Children adopted by Douglas and Kristen Barbour

 
A 6-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl, adopted from Ethiopia by Douglas and Kristen Barbour, were severely maltreated by their adoptive parents. The boy was malnourished and had skin lesions and the girl had signs of multiple skull fractures (abusive head trauma)  which caused her to be blind in one eye and partially paralyzed.
Date: 2012-09-14
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother
Fundamentalist faith: yes

Homestudy

Placement

Location

Franklin Park, Pennsylvania
United States

See map: Google Maps

Kacper and Klaudia, foster children of Anna and Wieslaw Cz.


3 year old boy and 5 year old girl beaten to death in separate incidents on July 3 and September 12, 2012. The family had 5 foster children, possibly all placed in their home since January 2012.
Date: 2012-09-12
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Foster father, Foster mother

Location

Puck
Poland

Boy in foster care of Mary Enzenbacher

2 year old boy in foster care with Mary Enzenbacher was severely beaten by her live-in boyfriend Anthony Walton. Mary observed the beatings over a few days but refused to seek medical treatment.
Date: 2012-08-21
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal neglect
Abuser: Other non-family member

Placement

Organizations: Hamilton County Job and Family Services

Location

Cincinnati, Ohio
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girl adopted by Jonathan Outlaw

A girl was sexually abused by her adopted father over 5 years. Jonathan Brett Outlaw is charged with 2 counts of sexual battery by a parent or custodian.
Date: 2012-08-13
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father

Location

brooksville, Florida
United States

See map: Google Maps

Boy adopted by Matthew and Amy Sweeney (Daniil Kruchin)

8-year-old boy adopted from Tula, Russia in June 2006 by Matthew and Amy Sweeney was allegedly systematically abused by his adoptive parents.
Date: 2012-07-19
Placement type: Adoption
Institution: Novomoskovsk Baby Home (Tula Oblast #3)
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother
Home schooling: yes

Placement

Organizations: Child of the Heart

Location

Bristow, Virginia
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girl adopted by Samuel and Diana Franklin

15 year old girl adopted by Diana and Samuel Franklin was confined in a chicken coop, required to wear a shock collar, and had food and water restricted.
Date: 2012-05-30
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother
Home schooling: yes
Fundamentalist faith: yes

Location

Butler, Georgia
United States

See map: Google Maps

Children adopted by Kelly Doreen Morris

4 biological siblings adopted by Kelly Morris are alleged to have been beaten and tortured.
Date: 2012-05-25
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive mother

Location

hanford, California
United States

See map: Google Maps

Children in foster care with Leeds man

A Leeds UK father and son sexually abused and took pornographic pictures of  two young children in foster care of the father.The father admitted a number of sex offences against children including four offences of rape of a child, two of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and one of making indecent images of a child. He was jailed for 10 years and eight months. The son pleaded guilty to four offences of sexual activity with a child, five of sexual assault of a child and two of making indecent photographs of a child. The son was given an indeterminate prison after a report into his behaviour stated that he had “uncontrollable urges” towards children.

Date: 2012-05-15
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse, Sexual exploitation
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adopted sibling

Placement

Organizations: Leeds City Council Children’s Services

Location

Leeds, West Yorkshire
United Kingdom

Boys adopted by Leslie Tiesler and Brad Thill

Three adopted boys were starved, shot with a BB gun, beaten with a spoon, and confined to a tool chest for days with only a pipe for fresh air. Thills adopted 4 boys in 2008, Leslie had a bio son. They divorced in 2010, but Tiesler continued to live in Brad Thill’s house while he was overseas. Tiesler, the non-adopted son and one of the adopted boys participated in the abuse. Tiesler claimed the boys were homeschooled. Forty-fve days after removal from the home, the 3 abused boys had gained 27, 20 and 10 pounds.
Date: 2012-05-01
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse, Non-lethal deprivation
Abuser: Adoptive mother, Adopted sibling, Non-adopted sibling, Undetermined
Home schooling: yes

Location

Cameron, North Carolina
United States

See map: Google Maps

Bethany Loerke

Bethany Loerke was adopted from foster care at age 5 along with her younger bio sister. Sexual abuse by her adoptive father Dr. James Loerke began almost immediately and continued until Bethany told her adoptive mother when she was nearly 11.  James Loerke pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual molestation and was sentenced to 20 years, which was later reduced to 15 years.At 20 years old, Bethany chose to waive her anonymity to help other victims, and to help others understand the connection between childhood trauma and later juvenile delinquency.

Date: 2012-04-22
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father

Location

Tulsa, Oklahoma
United States

See map: Google Maps

Benjamin Yhip

Benjamin Yhip - Taiwan2-year-old boy adopted from Taiwan along with his twin brother by Dr. James Peter Yhip and Edelyn Magakat Yhip was killed by blunt force trauma to his head. Previously the boy had been hospitalized for malnutrition and broken bones.  Their daughter was adopted from China.
Both parents were arrested on suspicion of murder with Edelyn believed to have caused the head trauma.

Date: 2012-04-18
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother
Fundamentalist faith: yes

Location

Chico, California
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girl adopted by Paul Lavoe

Teenaged girl from Ghana was adopted by her relative Paul Lavoe and his wife, Amanda. She, along with Lavoe’s biological daughter was beaten with electrical cords. The girls were homeschooled so that they could care for younger siblings.
Date: 2012-04-16
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father
Home schooling: yes

Location

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
United States

See map: Google Maps

Children adopted by Peter and Tamara Gable

Some of seven children, adopted from the foster care system by Peter and Tamara Gable, were physically abused by their adoptive parents. The abuse consisted largely of cruel and unusual punishment.
Date: 2012-04-01
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father, Adoptive mother
Fundamentalist faith: yes

Location

Middlefield, Connecticut
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girls in care of Don and Beverly Copley

3 sisters were placed in foster care or guardianship of Don Copley and Beverly K. Copley after the oldest sister was raped by the girls’ father Kenneth Copley. Don D. Copley is Kenneth’s brother and the girl’s uncle. The girls were aged 13, 7 and 6 when placed with the Copleys in 1991.Sexual abuse of the 3 girls began almost immediately and continued for many years. Foster mother Beverly Copley, aka Doris Copley, was aware of the abuse. Charges were brought in 2012 when it appears another family victim was being abused.Don Dallas Copley pleaded guilty to 15 counts of rape for the 3 sisters and was sentenced to 60 years. Beverly’s case is pending.

Date: 2012-02-28
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Foster father, Foster mother

Placement

Organizations: Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Lawrence County Children’s Services

Location

proctorville, Ohio
United States

See map: Google Maps

Boy in foster care in Kotovo, Russia

6 year old boy in Kotovo, Volgograd Russia was severely beaten by his foster mother for taking a piece of candy.
Date: 2012-02-24
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Non-lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Foster mother

Location

Kotovo, Volgograd
Russia

Joseph Maoping Adams

Boy born Oct 16, 2006 in Hangzhou, China and adopted to the US by Rick and Deah Adams. Died December 3. 2011 from ingesting a large amount of vinegar. His death was ruled a homicide by the county coroner. Deah Daniele Adams was charged with reckless homicide.
Date: 2012-02-10
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive mother
Disabilities: yes
Fundamentalist faith: yes

Location

Lexington, Kentucky
United States

See map: Google Maps

Alexis Long

Alexis Nicole Long
Alexis Nicole Long, 19 month old girl died of blunt force trauma after apparently being thrown onto a changing table by her adoptive mother Jennifer Long. Mrs. Long was charged with murder. Father Timothy Long was charged with second degree cruelty to children.
Date: 2012-01-31
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Lethal physical abuse
Abuser: Adoptive mother

Location

columbus, Georgia
United States

See map: Google Maps

Children in foster care with Mark O’Brien

At least 2 children in foster care with Mark Daniel O’Brien allege they were molested. O’Brien was charged with sodomy, molestation, and possession of child pornography.
Date: 2012-01-31
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Foster father

Location

Republic, Missouri
United States

See map: Google Maps

Girl adopted by Snohomish couple

A girl, removed from a polygamous clan in Utah, was placed for adoption with a couple who moved from Utah to Snohomish, WA. The girl was subsequently sexually abused by her adoptive father. A female Bothell, WA therapist had advised the adoptive couple to start sleeping with the girl.
Date: 2012-01-21
Placement type: Adoption
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Adoptive father

Location

Everett, Washington
United States

See map: Google Maps

Boys in Foster care in Calgary, Canada

At least one and maybe 3 boys aged 2, 4, and 6 were sexually assaulted by a 13 year old foster brother “T”. All 4 children were in the same foster home in Calgary. The 13 year old said he got the idea from watching gay pornography available in the home.
Date: 2012-01-03
Placement type: Foster care
Type of abuse: Sexual abuse
Abuser: Foster sibling

Location

calgary, Alberta
Canada

See map: Google Maps

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The family had lived in the rundown rental house for almost three years when someone first saw a child’s face in the window. A little girl, pale, with dark eyes, lifted a dirty blanket above the broken glass and peered out, one neighbor remembered.

Everyone knew a woman lived in the house with her boyfriend and two adult sons. But they had never seen a child there, had never noticed anyone playing in the overgrown yard. The girl looked young, 5 or 6, and thin. Too thin. Her cheeks seemed sunken; her eyes were lost. The child stared into the square of sunlight, then slipped away.  This was the 3rd sighting and 3rd report of possible neglect of this child in as many years.

The earliest documents are from Feb. 11, 2002. That was when someone called the child-abuse hot line on her. The caller reported that a child, about 3, was “left unattended for days with a retarded older brother, never seen wearing anything but a diaper. The home is filthy. There are clothes everywhere. There are feces on the child’s seat and the counter is covered with trash.”

It’s not clear what investigators found at the house, but they left Danielle with her mother that day.

Nine months later, another call to authorities. A person who knew Michelle from the Moose Lodge said she was always there playing bingo with her new boyfriend, leaving her children alone overnight. “Not fit to be a mother,” the caller said. The hot-line operator took these notes: The 4-year-old girl “is still wearing a diaper and drinking from a baby bottle. On-going situation, worse since last August. Mom leaves Grant and Danielle at home for several days in a row while she goes to work and spends the night with a new paramour. Danielle … is never seen outside the home.” Again the child-abuse investigators went out. They offered Michelle free day care for Danielle. She refused. And they left Danielle there.

A few months after the second abuse call, Michelle and her kids moved in with her boyfriend in the rundown rental house in Plant City. The day the cops came, Michelle says, she didn’t know what was wrong. Just before noon on July 13, 2005, a Plant City police car pulled up outside that shattered window. Two officers went into the house — and one stumbled back out. Clutching his stomach, the rookie retched in the weeds.

Plant City Detective Mark Holste had been on the force for 18 years when he and his young partner were sent to the house on Old Sydney Road to stand by during a child abuse investigation. Someone had finally called the police. They found a car parked outside. The driver’s door was open and a woman was slumped over in her seat, sobbing. She was an investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“Unbelievable,” she told Holste. “The worst I’ve ever seen.” The police officers walked through the front door, into a cramped living room. “I’ve been in rooms with bodies rotting there for a week and it never stunk that bad,” Holste said later. “There’s just no way to describe it. Urine and feces — dog, cat and human excrement — smeared on the walls, mashed into the carpet. Everything dank and rotting.” Tattered curtains, yellow with cigarette smoke, dangling from bent metal rods. Cardboard and old comforters stuffed into broken, grimy windows. Trash blanketing the stained couch, the sticky counters. The floor, walls, even the ceiling seemed to sway beneath legions of scuttling roaches.

“It sounded like you were walking on eggshells. You couldn’t take a step without crunching German cockroaches,” the detective said. “They were in the lights, in the furniture. Even inside the freezer. The freezer!” While Holste looked around, a stout woman in a faded housecoat demanded to know what was going on. Yes, she lived there. Yes, those were her two sons in the living room. Her daughter? Well, yes, she had a daughter . . .

The detective strode past her, down a narrow hall. He turned the handle on a door, which opened into a space the size of a walk-in closet. He squinted in the dark. At his feet, something stirred.  The detective found Danielle in the back. The only window in the small space was broken. Michelle had tacked a blanket across the shattered glass, but flies and beetles and roaches had crept in anyway. “My house was a mess,” she says. “I’d been sick and it got away from me. But I never knew a dirty house was against the law.” The cop walked past her, carrying Danielle.

• • •

First he saw the girl’s eyes: dark and wide, unfocused, unblinking. She wasn’t looking at him so much as through him. She lay on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side, long legs tucked into her emaciated chest. Her ribs and collarbone jutted out; one skinny arm was slung over her face; her black hair was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin. Though she looked old enough to be in school, she was naked — except for a swollen diaper.

“The pile of dirty diapers in that room must have been 4 feet high,” the detective said. “The glass in the window had been broken, and that child was just lying there, surrounded by her own excrement and bugs.” When he bent to lift her, she yelped like a lamb. “It felt like I was picking up a baby,” Holste said. “I put her over my shoulder, and that diaper started leaking down my leg.” The girl didn’t struggle. Holste asked, What’s your name, honey? The girl didn’t seem to hear. He searched for clothes to dress her, but found only balled-up laundry, flecked with feces. He looked for a toy, a doll, a stuffed animal. “But the only ones I found were covered in maggots and roaches.” Choking back rage, he approached the mother. How could you let this happen? “The mother’s statement was: ‘I’m doing the best I can,” the detective said. “I told her, ‘The best you can sucks!’ ” He wanted to arrest the woman right then, but when he called his boss he was told to let DCF do its own investigation.

So the detective carried the girl down the dim hall, past her brothers, past her mother in the doorway, who was shrieking, “Don’t take my baby!” He buckled the child into the state investigator’s car. The investigator agreed: They had to get the girl out of there. “Radio ahead to Tampa General,” the detective remembers telling his partner. “If this child doesn’t get to a hospital, she’s not going to make it.”

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Her name, her mother had said, was Danielle. She was almost 7 years old. She weighed 46 pounds. She was malnourished and anemic. In the pediatric intensive care unit they tried to feed the girl, but she couldn’t chew or swallow solid food. So they put her on an IV and let her drink from a bottle.  Aides bathed her, scrubbed the sores on her face, trimmed her torn fingernails. They had to cut her tangled hair before they could comb out the lice.

Her caseworker determined that she had never been to school, never seen a doctor. She didn’t know how to hold a doll, didn’t understand peek-a-boo. “Due to the severe neglect,” a doctor would write, “the child will be disabled for the rest of her life.” Hunched in an oversized crib, Danielle curled in on herself like a potato bug, then writhed angrily, kicking and thrashing. To calm herself, she batted at her toes and sucked her fists. “Like an infant,” one doctor wrote. She wouldn’t make eye contact. She didn’t react to heat or cold — or pain. The insertion of an IV needle elicited no reaction. She never cried. With a nurse holding her hands, she could stand and walk sideways on her toes, like a crab. She couldn’t talk, didn’t know how to nod yes or no. Once in a while she grunted. She couldn’t tell anyone what had happened, what was wrong, what hurt.

Dr. Kathleen Armstrong, director of pediatric psychology at the University of South Florida medical school, was the first psychologist to examine Danielle. She said medical tests, brain scans, and vision, hearing and genetics checks found nothing wrong with the child. She wasn’t deaf, wasn’t autistic, had no physical ailments such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. The doctors and social workers had no way of knowing all that had happened to Danielle. But the scene at the house, along with Danielle’s almost comatose condition, led them to believe she had never been cared for beyond basic sustenance. Hard as it was to imagine, they doubted she had ever been taken out in the sun, sung to sleep, even hugged or held. She was fragile and beautiful, but whatever makes a person human seemed somehow missing. Armstrong called the girl’s condition “environmental autism.” Danielle had been deprived of interaction for so long, the doctor believed, that she had withdrawn into herself.

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The most extraordinary thing about Danielle, Armstrong said, was her lack of engagement with people, with anything. “There was no light in her eye, no response or recognition. . . . We saw a little girl who didn’t even respond to hugs or affection. Even a child with the most severe autism responds to those.” Danielle’s was “the most outrageous case of neglect I’ve ever seen.” The authorities had discovered the rarest and most pitiable of creatures: a feral child.

“In the first five years of life, 85 percent of the brain is developed,” said Armstrong, the psychologist who examined Danielle. “Those early relationships, more than anything else, help wire the brain and provide children with the experience to trust, to develop language, to communicate. They need that system to relate to the world.”

Danielle’s case raised disturbing questions for everyone trying to help her. How could this have happened? What kind of mother would sit by year after year while her daughter languished in her own filth, starving and crawling with bugs? And why hadn’t someone intervened? The neighbors, the authorities — where had they been? “It’s mind-boggling that in the 21st century we can still have a child who’s just left in a room like a gerbil,” said Tracy Sheehan, Danielle’s guardian in the legal system and now a circuit court judge. “No food. No one talking to her or reading her a story. She can’t even use her hands. How could this child be so invisible?”

Doctors had only the most modest ambitions for her. “My hope was that she would be able to sleep through the night, to be out of diapers and to feed herself,” Armstrong said. If things went really well, she said, Danielle would end up “in a nice nursing home.” Danielle spent six weeks at Tampa General before she was well enough to leave. But where could she go? Not home; Judge Martha Cook, who oversaw her dependency hearing, ordered that Danielle be placed in foster care and that her mother not be allowed to call or visit her. The mother was being investigated on criminal child abuse charges.

“That child, she broke my heart,” Cook said later. “We were so distraught over her condition, we agonized over what to do.” Eventually, Danielle was placed in a group home in Land O’Lakes. She had a bed with sheets and a pillow, clothes and food, and someone at least to change her diapers.  “In my entire career with the child welfare system, I don’t ever remember a child like Danielle,” said Luanne Panacek, executive director of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. “It makes you think about what does quality of life mean? What’s the best we can hope for her? After all she’s been through, is it just being safe?”

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