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Girl freed from closet got help years earlier
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Kansas City mother admitted withholding food from her daughter years before the now 10-year-old was freed from a closet weighing 32 pounds, court records show.
The Kansas City Star reported that the girl was hospitalized as a 4-year-old because she already was underweight at 26 pounds. The mother said then that her reason for withholding food was to keep her daughter from going to the bathroom too often.
Jackson County Family Court records show the girl and her younger sister were taken from their mother. The mother regained custody of the two girls the following year and gave birth to a third daughter two years ago.
Now, the 29-year-old mother is charged with abusing her oldest daughter, and the two younger girls are in protective custody. The Associated Press is not naming the mother to protect the child's identity.
The case left neighbors wondering how the 10-year-old could have fallen through the cracks. They said they didn't know the girl was living in their midst until a child abuse hotline call led authorities last month to a locked apartment closet that reeked of urine. Inside was the girl.
"Why didn't anyone go looking for her, check on her?" said Tameika Johnson, who said she didn't know about the 10-year-old despite living across the courtyard from the mother and talking with her nearly every day. "Why didn't they look into why she wasn't at school? Why didn't the hospital where she was treated check on her?"
The Star reported that just a month after the state returned both girls to their mother, the older girl stopped going to school and dropped out of sight.
Authorities believe now that the girl was locked away inside her mother's apartment. The probable cause said she was often kept in a closet, struck with a fist when she soiled herself and not allowed to play outside or attend school.
"This is one of the most serious cases I have seen," Family Court commissioner Molly Merrigan said.
The 10-year-old told authorities she wasn't allowed to eat every day and she didn't want to go home again. When her mother was arrested, she told authorities that she put her daughter in the closet when she had to leave the house, according to court documents.
Though officials with the Department of Social Services say they can't confirm that Children's Division caseworkers ever worked with the family, court records show the extent of involvement the state had in 2006 and 2007.
According to court records, Children's Mercy Hospital diagnosed the girl with failure to thrive in fall 2005. Children's Mercy set up treatment appointments for her, but records show the mother failed to show up with her daughter. She didn't return to Children's Mercy until Jan. 31, 2006, when the girl required hospitalization.
With her two girls taken from her, the mother worked with the Children's Division toward reunification. According to her attorney at the time, the mother was doing everything she needed to do to get her daughters back home.
"There appear to be no further services that the children are in need of from the court," her attorney wrote in a late February 2007 motion for the case to be released from family court.
In early March 2007, the Family Court ruled that the children should be reunited with their mother and released the family from court jurisdiction. After that, there were no records in the court file of another hotline call or incident involving the state or family court.
Mary Marquez, juvenile officer with Jackson County Family Court, said there isn't a system in place to watch all children all the time.
But that's not good enough for the girl's neighbor.
"How does a little girl disappear?" Johnson asked. "I've been asking myself that."
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com