Have you heard the heart-breaking story of the feral child – Dani? Fair warning – it is hard to read without tissues in hand. A few years ago in Plant City, Florida, the police received a call when neighbors saw a small girl in the window of a run down trailer. The family had lived there for three years and no one had ever seen the little girl before. They didn’t know at the time, but the girl had never been outside before. Neither did they know the horrors that lurked inside the house. Two Plant City policemen responded to a call to lend support for a Department of Children and Family Services worker who was at the home investigating a child abuse case. Detective Mark Holste, an 18-year veteran of the police department, described what he found like this:
“I’ve been in rooms with bodies rotting there for a week and it never stunk that bad. There’s just no way to describe it. Urine and feces -dog, cat and human- smeared on the wall and mashed into the carpet. Everything was dank and rotting. The floors and even the ceiling seemed to sway from legions of roaches. It sounded like you were walking on egg shells. You couldn’t take a step without crunching German cockroaches: They were in the lights, in the furniture. Even in the freezer!”
When the detective looked around and opened the door to a closet, he found Dani there on a moldy mattress with no close on. Surrounding the girl was a pile of dirty diapers 5 feet high. Her ribs and collarbone stuck out. Her dark eyes looked through the detective, not at him. He looked for clothes to dress her, but everything was covered in feces. He tried to find a toy to bring with her, but everything was covered with maggots and roaches. The mother’s response further outraged the detective. “I’m doing the best job I can,” was her statement. They took Dani, who was almost 7 years old and weighed only 45 pounds, to the hospital and that is where her story began.
Dani Lierow’s case of neglect was so severe that investigators say the girl had developed “environmental autism.” She had so little human interaction that she had completely turned inside herself. She had never learned to talk or even to use her hands. She couldn’t eat solid food. She didn’t respond to touch. Would there be any future for Dani? And what about Dani’s mother – would she ever get custody of Dani again?
The police allowed Dani’s mother to take a plea deal of no jail time, if she would give up parental rights to Dani. She took the deal. But could Dani ever recover? Two years after her rescue, a Tennessee couple, Bernie and Diane Lierow, adopted Dani. Progress is on-going and she is doing better than anyone could have dared hope. She can look at people now and let herself be held. She can chew foods for the first time in her life. She can swim. She’s tall and blonde and knows her name is Dani. In her room, she has a window she can look out of when she wants to see outside. All she has to do is raise her arms and her dad is right behind her, waiting to pick her up.
Child services had been called two previous times in Dani’s case and she was not removed from the home. It you think a child is being neglected or abused, call the anonymous toll-free hotline – 1-800-962-2873.
Dani and her adoptive family when she was nine.
Thanks to my daughter, Whitnei, for sharing this story with me.