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PARENTS arrested after malnourished girl found in closet

HUTCHINS, Texas (AP) _ Police say a South Dallas County couple locked an 8-year-old girl in a dark, lice-infested closet for four months, where she lay on a urine-stained blanket and ate bits of bread and water.

The malnourished girl weighed only 25 pounds and was just three feet tall when she was rescued Monday night. The 4- by 8-foot closet was littered with human waste and soiled clothing.

The girl's mother and stepfather were arrested for injury to a child and held in the city jail. Police said they were to be transferred to the Dallas County jail Tuesday.

The girl was taken to Children's Medical Center of Dallas for treatment of malnutrition. Police said the girl should weigh at least 50 pounds.

Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said she is in stable condition, although the girl may suffer from other medical conditions. The child's skin was peeling on her back and buttocks, and her stomach was bloated.

Five other children in the home, ranging from 22 months old to 11 years, were placed in emergency foster care. Police said it did not appear they were malnourished, although the mobile home they lived in was filled with dirty clothes, trash and pet feces.

CPS will ask a Dallas County judge Wednesday to take temporary custody of the six children.

Police did not identify the couple Tuesday afternoon, but said the mother was 30 years old and the stepfather was 33.

Hutchins Police Officer Gary McClain said the stepfather told a neighbor at the Pebble Creek Mobile Home Park about the girl Monday evening. Joe Rivers, the neighbor, then went to the fire station and contacted police.

When police arrived at the home, the mother was gone and the stepfather was feeding the girl spaghetti at the kitchen table.

``She was eating as fast as she could,'' McClain said.

The officer said the girl, who was filthy with matted hair, was the size of a toddler.

``When I looked in her eyes, it looked like she'd been in a dungeon for days and days. I thought, 'My God, how can anybody do that?''

But the girl was talking and in good spirits, McClain said.

``She probably thought coming to the dinner table was the highlight of her night,'' he said.

The stepfather was cooperative and provided birth certificates and immunization records for the children, McClain said. The mother was arrested when she returned home around 2 a.m. Tuesday. Police did not say where she had been.

Rivers said he had befriended the man and that their children played together at the mobile home park. But he didn't know until Monday that the 8-year-old was living with the family.

He said he wished he could have helped earlier.

``I sat at his kitchen table playing cards,'' Rivers said, crying. ``That just makes me sick.''

Rivers said the man blamed his wife for the abuse, saying it continued in some form for 18 months.

``He said that she (the mother) couldn't control the child. But if you'd seen the child, what kind of trouble could she have caused?''

The stepfather did not seek help, Rivers said, because he feared authorities would take away all the kids, three of which were his biological children.

``He feels terrible,'' Rivers said. ``He said the nightmares were killing him. But he was terrified of losing those kids.''

Police said the 8-year-old appeared to have been neglected for some time. She didn't know what a television was, did not recognize a picture of the sun, and told officers she was two years old.

Police said they did not know if the girl, or other children, attended school. Police had been called to the home several days earlier to investigate an unrelated child welfare case involving a neighbor family. They saw no signs of the 8-year-old girl.

Marleigh said the girl might have died if the neighbor hadn't acted quickly.

``Parents are to love, protect and nurture their children,'' she said. ``But when they are negligent, the neighbors must step forward.''
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