CPS reviewing case of starved 14-year-old in Carnation
A 14-year-old girl who was found starved to 48 pounds in August had told a teacher three years ago that her stepmother was locking her in her room and starving her. Child Protective Services investigated the 2005 complaint and is now reviewing its actions, but officials said the agency would have been hard-pressed to do anything differently.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Three years ago, an 11-year-old Carnation girl told her teacher she wanted to run away from home because her stepmother was abusing her. Locking her in her room. Starving her, even.
The girl figured she weighed 60 pounds. All she'd get was two pieces of toast a day, she said at the time.
At first glance, it seems like a clear-cut case of child abuse. Just months earlier, a Spokane-area boy named Tyler DeLeon died after being starved by his mother. But it was not so simple, and for three more years, the girl remained at home.
On Monday, her stepmother, Rebecca Long, and father, Jon Pomeroy, were charged with criminal mistreatment. When investigators responded to a complaint in August — after a neighbor reported hearing screaming from the house — the girl was 14 years old and weighed 48 pounds.
She suffered dehydration so severe that all of her teeth were rotting, court documents state. It was the worst case of abuse the veteran King County detective assigned to the case had ever seen.
"Obviously we wish we'd had the vision to know that something was going to happen to this child," Children's Administration head Cheryl Stephani said Tuesday.
The agency is still reviewing its work from 2005 to see if there are any lessons to draw. But for the most part, Stephani defended the agency's actions, saying that given the totality of the situation, the agency would have been hard-pressed to do anything differently.
"We're going to thoroughly review the case and see if there were things that were not disclosed at that point [three years ago]" Children's Administration spokesman Thomas Shapley said.
The 2005 case came to light after the girl disclosed abuse to a teacher, who called law enforcement and Child Protective Services (CPS). The girl was home-schooled, but attended a program once a week at Carnation Elementary School.
She told the CPS investigator that she wanted to go into foster care because she was "tired of eating two pieces of bread," according to notes from the CPS interview read to a reporter.
But when questioned further, the girl said that she sometimes ate soup and a sandwich for lunch, and that when her father, a software engineer, came home from work, she ate the dinner he prepared.
Her complaints, the investigator concluded, were focused more on disputes with her stepmother than they were on starvation. Given the girl's report, there wasn't a lot for the investigator to latch onto, Stephanie Allison-Noone, the regional CPS manager in charge of the case, said Tuesday.
The agency was able to determine that Long punished the girl by locking her in a room. That complaint was deemed "founded." The case quickly concluded when the investigator told the mother it was "not OK" to lock the girl in, in case of fire, and Long said she wouldn't do it again.
From appearances, Long was just a typical stay-at-home mom.
One of Long's relatives, who lives in another state and did not want to be named, said she had never seen any indications of abuse.
"The times I've seen her with the children, she seemed very concerned about them. She was home-schooling then because [the girl] was doing poorly and she always seemed to care about them."
To outsiders, she seemed like a woman obsessed — with knitting. She accumulated yarn with a manic focus, buying more and more skeins to add to her "stash." As the stash grew uncontrollably, she vowed on her blog to whittle it down by finishing projects for family and friends at the frantic pace of one a week. But she could not keep up. Last February, she calculated she had enough yarn in her stash for 72 projects.
Meanwhile, she was systematically depriving her stepdaughter of sustenance, court documents state. Investigators say the girl told them that Long permitted her half a Dixie cup of water a day and supervised the girl's showers and toothbrushing so she could not sneak a drink. Once, the girl said she was caught drinking from the toilet, her thirst was so bad. The girl told a detective that her father was "aware of the water restrictions but chooses not to interfere," according to court documents.
In August, a neighbor called CPS to report screams coming from the home. Sheriff deputies found the child emaciated, dehydrated and starving to death — her body resembling that of a 7- or 8-year-old.
Detectives say Long told them she punished the girl by restricting her water intake. Pomeroy, a software engineer described by a former colleague as "brilliant and hyperintelligent," told detectives he thought it was odd that his daughter looked like a child in elementary school. He was also aware of the water restriction but thought "they could just handle it themselves," according to court documents.
Stephani said that this time, the CPS investigator demanded the girl be taken to a doctor. The doctor who saw her the next day referred the child immediately to Seattle Children's hospital, which has expertise in these kinds of cases. She spent two weeks in the hospital and was placed in foster care.
"I'm not trying to make excuses but it — is complex," Stephani said.
Long and Pomeroy were each released on $20,000 bail. They are scheduled for arraignment Oct. 27.
Staff reporters Christine Clarridge and Lornet Turnbull contributed to this report. Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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