Carnation girl, 14, found starved to 48 pounds
Calling it the "worst case" of abuse a detective had ever seen, King County prosecutors charged a Carnation couple Friday with criminal mistreatment after police found their 14-year-old daughter emaciated, dehydrated and suffering from severe malnutrition.
Seattle Times staff reporters
For Rebecca Long, it was a "power struggle" intended to rein in an unruly stepdaughter. She'd lock the teenager in her bedroom and deny her food and water, according to court documents. To teach her a lesson.
For the girl, it was a nightmarish struggle to survive on toast and a half a Dixie cup of water a day. Desperate to slake her thirst, the girl reportedly told detectives she would sometimes suck condensation from the windows or sneak a drink from the toilet — that is, until she got caught.
Then, she said, she was forced to sleep on the floor in her stepmom's room, a heavy dresser blocking the door.
The rest of the time, according to detectives, the child was locked in her room behind double deadbolts, her floor and clothing sprinkled with rodent droppings and every bite of her meager meals an agony because her teeth were rotting out.
Once, the girl told detectives, her stepmother duct-taped her hands behind her and dunked her head in the toilet, the charges allege.
To teach her a lesson.
King County prosecutors on Monday filed felony mistreatment charges against Long, 44, and the girl's father, Jon Pomeroy, 43, alleging they isolated and starved the 14-year-old girl.
Long and Pomeroy were originally arrested Friday and, at that time, prosecutors asked they be held on $400,000 and $150,000 bail, respectively. King County District Court Judge Janet Garrow said she did not believe they posed a flight risk or were a threat to the community and released them on their own recognizance.
Monday evening, the couple were booked into jail and then released on $20,000 bail each. They are scheduled to appear for arraignment Oct. 27. When police and state child-protection agents responded to the couple's secluded Carnation home in August, after a call from concerned neighbors, they found the girl sick, pale and emaciated.
She was 4 foot 7 and weighed 48 pounds.
The girl's 12-year-old brother and two family dogs appeared in good health, according to court papers.
Both of the children were removed from the home by Child Protective Services.
Three years ago, in March 2005, CPS agents investigated a complaint from the girl's schoolteacher after the child had talked of harsh treatment at home, including being locked in her room and deprived of food.
Investigators found the girl thin and confirmed her allegations, CPS spokesman Thomas Shapley said Monday. It's not clear what happened next, although CPS officials say the mother received counseling.
"There were similar issues with the girl's weight. Obviously, it was not as extreme," Shapley said Monday.
What is certain is that the children were left in the home and the case was closed a month later.
"When a case is closed, there's a determination made that the situation, the crisis has passed," said Shapley.
The children enrolled in Stillwater Elementary School in 2001, but their parents pulled them out to be home schooled three years later. Even so, they still had been attending an alternative program in the district once a week.
After the complaint, the children never returned to the school, officials said.
"We've had no contact, no referrals or calls or complaints since that one in March 2005," Shapley said.
On Aug 13, a sheriff's deputy went to the home after a neighbor called CPS to report screaming from the house the night before.
The lead detective on the case, who has been with the special-assault unit for 16 years, said "he's never seen a case of abuse this bad," said sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart.
The girl was "concentration camp" thin, Urquhart said.
Long, interviewed by investigators, said that she and the girl were locked in a "power struggle" and the child was being disciplined for "behavior problems," according to charging papers filed Friday in King County Superior Court.
Pomeroy, the girl's father, stayed out of it.
"Jon said that the conflict between [the girl] and Rebecca was concerning, but he thought they could just handle it themselves," wrote sheriff's Detective Casey Johnson.
Authorities say Long is a stay-at-home mother and Pomeroy is a software engineer who worked at Estorian Inc. in Bellevue.
The girl was taken straight to Children's Medical Center, where she spent two weeks and underwent surgery to remove six of her teeth and put crowns on all of the others. Doctors said malnutrition and the apparent failure of her saliva glands — the body's response to severe dehydration — destroyed her teeth.
The girl "explained that, while she did have a toothbrush, it was very old and dirty and her stepmother, who must watch her when she brushes in order to make sure she does not drink any extra water, often doesn't want to wait ... so she goes without brushing," according to the charges.
It was the same when she was allowed to shower every two or three weeks, the girl told deputies, according to the documents.
Deputies said she more resembled a child of 7 or 8 years old, and doctors at Children's said she stopped gaining weight around age 9.
It's unlikely the girl had been to a doctor since 2002, according to papers detectives said they found in the house during a search. Long told police that neither child had been to a doctor in years, "explaining that the kids do not get germs and do not get sick."
Deputies, however, said they found documents that indicated her little brother had been seen by a physician in the past few years.
"Other documents were collected showing that the two family dogs had had recent trips to a veterinary clinic," according to the charges.
The complaint said that doctors and psychiatrists who treated the girl saw no signs of behavior problems or any eating disorder, although she had suicidal thoughts because of her "perception of the helplessness and hopelessness in the face of maltreatment."
Since the girl's been in foster care, according to the court documents, she's gained 20 pounds, has been attending private school, and is making friends.
The children's biological mother and Pomeroy married in the early 1990s in Albuquerque, N.M., where he was working for WordPerfect, according to the mother's father, Robert Stokes, 73, of Bosque Farms, N.M. Stokes said Monday that Pomeroy was "quiet, and just a little odd."
The couple moved to Orem, Utah, in the mid-'90s and had the two children. They separated and divorced while in Utah, and Pomeroy was given custody of the children.
Stokes said he had received a few "nice letters" from his grandchildren in the beginning, but the contacts became less and less frequent. "I haven't heard from him in some time — years," Stokes said of Pomeroy.
Stokes learned that his grandchildren had been taken into custody when he received a message on his answering machine from a Department of Social and Health Services caseworker.
"I haven't had a chance to get back in touch," Stokes said. "I'm just sick about this."
Long and Pomeroy apparently met while they both were working at WordPerfect in Orem, said Bruce Webb, Long's ex-husband.
Webb described Long as a "perfectionist" whom he had met while both were training for the National Guard in Indiana in 1985. They stayed in touch and eventually married in 1988. They divorced in 1993.
"I thought I knew her, but obviously I didn't," Webb said Monday. "She was selfish and self-centered, for sure, but I never would have thought she'd be capable of something like this."
The house where the family lives is on a cul-de-sac near the north end of Lake Marcel, about 40 miles east of Seattle, between the communities of Duvall and Carnation.
One neighbor, who declined to identify himself other than to say his first name was Jordan, said he'd talked to people at the home only twice in about two years.
"They're very 'to-themselves' kind of people," he said. "I never knew they had a daughter," he said. "They just stayed inside a lot. I never heard any screaming. Police took the kids awhile ago."
He said a sport-utility vehicle and a car normally were parked in the driveway at the home, but no vehicles were there today and nobody appeared to be home.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seattle Times staff reporter Peyton Whitely and news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Information in this article, originally published October 14, 2008, was corrected October 23, 2008. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the children attended a Carnation elementary school. That information has been replaced with the correct schooling information stating, "The children enrolled in Stillwater Elementary School in 2001, but their parents pulled them out to be home schooled three years later. Even so, they still had been attending an alternative program in the district once a week."
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