Archived Story

Child neglect uncalled for

Published 12:00am Sunday, July 6, 2014

I’ll be the first to admit. I am a crier when it comes to sappy movies.

I think I’ve always been that way. I remember seeing “My Girl” when I was about 7 or 8 and just bawling my eyes out when Vada interrupted Thomas’ funeral because he wasn’t wearing his glasses in his coffin.

“He can’t see without his glasses!” she kept saying.

That’s my first recollection of becoming so engrossed in the characters of a movie.

A couple others that have triggered what’s commonly referred to as “ugly crying” have been “The Notebook,” and “Marley and Me.”

I even cried when Wilson the Volleyball floated away in “Cast Away.”

Maybe that’s just how good of an actor Tom Hanks is, to make me become emotionally attached to sports equipment, but I try not to watch tearjerkers in public anymore if I can help it.

Reading, however, doesn’t have the same effect on me. I love reading, but I’ve never actually cried while doing so. Until a couple of weeks ago, that is.

There has been so much in the news recently about parents leaving children in hot cars.

A father in Long Island, a father and hospital CEO in Iowa, and in one of the more shocking and publicized cases recently, the Georgia man who police say killed his 22-month old son intentionally by leaving him in a hot car.

I don’t know if it was a coincidence or a result of the barrage of recent child endangerment stories floating around the Internet, but I came across this news article someone had posted on Facebook.

It was an update on a little girl from Florida who was severely neglected by her mother. I have no idea why I clicked the link to read it, but I did.

The link took me to the Tampa Bay Times website. The story was called “Now 15, the ‘Girl in the Window’ is featured on Oprah show.”

I didn’t read it right away, but instead I followed another link to the original story from 2008, “The girl in the window.”

What I found was one of the most heart-wrenching and infuriating stories I had read about child neglect.

In fact, I don’t even think the word “neglect” is strong enough.

You “neglect” to water a fern. You “neglect” to lock your car doors.”

You don’t “neglect” to show a 7-year-old child any human interaction whatsoever, save from basic sustenance, for her entire life.

The mother, her boyfriend and two adult sons had lived in the rental house for three years before anyone in the neighborhood even noticed a little girl lived there. Someone saw Danielle peek through the window.

Months later, someone finally called the police. Law enforcement and child services workers called it the worse case they had ever seen:

“‘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,’” a detective said.

“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’s appalling to think there were adults in that home who lived in a mess like that — by choice. There are a lot of circumstances in life people can’t control, but living in feces is not one of them.

It is even more appalling that a child — who couldn’t do anything for herself — was living in that:

“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.”

Danielle couldn’t speak, had never been to school or seen a doctor. She couldn’t feed herself, couldn’t chew or swallow solid food. She didn’t know how to hold a doll or play peek-a-boo. She couldn’t even make eye contact.

But there was nothing wrong with her according to the brain scans and genetic tests:

“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.

“Danielle had been deprived of interaction for so long … that she had withdrawn into herself.”

She was, by all accounts, a feral child.

I hadn’t realized it at first, but I had been crying. Thinking about that poor girl not even knowing how to hold a doll broke my heart. She had never been held like I was when I was a child. Never tucked into bed at night or read a bedtime story like I was.

Danielle was deprived of love.

I’m not a parent but it shocks me to think someone could simply ignore the basic and fundamental needs of their child like that, leaving her alone in filthy conditions like a neglected hamster.

But with all the stories about child abuse and neglect popping up, it just makes me wonder.

Why have children in the first place if you’re not going to care for them and love them? There are plenty of people who want children but can’t have their own who would adopt.

As for leaving a child in a hot car, most of the time the cases seem to be accidental, but even that baffles the mind. I have no idea how stressful it is to be a parent, but I still don’t see how someone could forget their child was with them.

I won’t spoil the rest of Danielle’s story by telling you what becomes of her, because it really deserves a read. The writer won a Pulitzer. I will say the ending and the update story are about as happy as possible considering the circumstances.

If you’re anything like me, just have a box of tissues on standby.

 

Michelle Goodman is the news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at michelle.goodman@irontontribune.com.

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