Tulsa Parents Of 13-Pound Toddler Charged With Child Neglect

Tuesday, October 15th 2013, 3:58 pm
By: Tess Maune

Child neglect charges were filed against two Green Country parents Tuesday. They're accused of starving their little girl, while spending too much time playing video games.

Mark Knapp and Elizabeth Pester have been in jail for a week. Their 2-year-old daughter only weighed 13 pounds.

Affidavits say doctors found the girl had anemia, respiratory failure, and a host of other issues.

Court records show DHS has been aware of the child's struggles for essentially her whole life, and referred the couple a program headed up by the Department of Education called Sooner Start.

SoonerStart is an early intervention program designed to help children under 3 years of age with disabilities and developmental delays.

10/11/2013 Related Story: Online Friend Defends Parents Accused Of Starving Daughter

The agency offers more than a dozen services, free of charge, to children who qualify.

"The services can take place, [they're provided] in the child and family's natural environment," said Tricia Pemberton, with the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Pemberton said SoonerStart serves 2,600 children a day and about 12,000 families each year.

According to court documents, SoonerStart worked with Elizabeth Pester, Mark Knapp and their daughter on two separate occasions.

"As far as DHS, if they recommend a family receives these services, that would be up to [DHS] whether that's a requirement on their part," Pemberton said.

DHS couldn't comment on the case, but an affidavit shows in the spring of 2011, DHS made a referral to the agency to help the couple care for their then 3-month-old daughter.

Court papers indicate the couple was "not spending enough time" with the girl, causing her to have "feeding issues." SoonerStart closed its case a month later.

Fast forward to June 2012--an affidavit shows SoonerStart was called on again by DHS. This time, after the then 18-month-old girl was hospitalized for weighing only 13 pounds.

Court records show SoonerStart told DHS it would stop by the couple's Tulsa apartment for weekly weigh-ins, but documents say, in five months, the child was only seen four times and weighed twice.

An affidavit indicates Pester and Knapp weren't cooperative, but SoonerStart never reported the issue to DHS.

The agency said it is obligated to report cases of suspected abuse, but couldn't comment on this case specifically.

"It would totally depend on whether there was any suspected abuse at the point that the service was dropped," Pemberton said.

Almost a year after the little girl's last visit with SoonerStart, she was hospitalized again, still weighing 13 pounds.

Child crisis detectives told us Tuesday the little girl is still in the hospital, but out of critical condition. They said she has gained some weight, but has a long, hard road ahead of her.