Online Friend Defends Parents Accused Of Starving Daughter

Friday, October 11th 2013, 11:39 pm
By: Tess Maune

Police said they were so immersed in an online fantasy world, they starved their nearly 3-year-old daughter, but a cyber-friend has come to the defense of Elizabeth Pester and Mark Knapp.

The couple was arrested Tuesday for child abuse and neglect. Police said the little girl was grossly underweight when she showed up at a Tulsa hospital this week.

But Pester's online friend, Victoria McClain, said Pester fed the child.

"Normal food, whatever they would have prepared that evening, usually Liz would go and make something for them all to eat, or they would order out," McClain said.

McClain lives nearly 700 miles from Tulsa, in Dubuque, Iowa. She's never met Pester in person, yet she said she considers Pester one of her best friends.

"She's never seemed to me anything other than a normal person," McClain said.

McClain said she met Pester several years ago playing the online game "Second Life." But McClain said the virtual game turned into a real life friendship fast.

10/10/2013 Related Story: Police Say Parents Accused Of Starving Daughter Lived In Online Fantasy World

"I've spent multiple hours, even days sitting with her on Skype, talking with her," she said.

During their chats, McClain said Pester would regularly check on and feed her daughter. She said Pester would sometimes even include the little girl in the conversation.

"I would hear her off in the background being a chatty little 2-year-old, trying to learn her words and things of that sort," said McClain. "Liz would even sit here with me, with Sky in her lap and try to get Sky to say hello to me. She, to me, looked like a normal, healthy 2-year-old."

McClain said Pester told her the little girl had a developmental disability and said Pester talked about how the child had trouble gaining weight.

But this week, McClain said Pester took a more serious tone and told her the child was very sick.

"She was quite concerned, she had actually been looking through WebMD to find out what was wrong and she had thought, as many of us would, that it was the flu," McClain said. "She became very, very concerned when other symptoms kind of pointed in a different way."

Pester's nearly 3-year-old daughter was taken to a hospital in critical condition Tuesday. Police said the child was severely malnourished, weighing only 13 pounds.

Reporter Tess Maune: "When you hear that Elizabeth's daughter, she'll be 3 in December, only weighs 13 pounds, does that raise any red flags?"

Victoria McClain: "It does sort of, yes. But there could be several things, like a thyroid problem or a metabolism issue that could be causing Sky to have such a low weight. But she's never once taken anything more seriously than her daughter and I think people need to know how much she actually cared for that baby."

Police said Pester and the little girl's father, Mark Knapp, stayed with their daughter at the hospital for a few hours, then called the hospital to say they wouldn't be back for a few days.

When the couple were arrested, police say the two were playing video games.

"He's one of those hardcore gamer kind of folks," McClain said. "But Liz has never put a game before her daughter."

McClain said neither Pester nor Knapp have a job or a car.

"The only reason they would have not been able to make it back is because they don't have a car and they have to have money to pay for a cab to get back up to the hospital," McClain said.

McClain said Pester had talked with her about pawning off some of her belongings for taxi money. Police said the couple's apartment is about three miles from the hospital.

The little girl was taken to the hospital for malnourishment in June 2012, according to police. Police said the child weighed 13 pounds then, as well.

An affidavit shows DHS referred the parents to Sooner Start, and a therapist with the agency was to visit the child weekly for a weigh-in.

Court papers said a therapist checked on the girl four times and weighed her only twice in about five months.

The documents said the parents weren't cooperative, but said the Sooner Start never reported the problem to DHS.

The affidavit said Pester told the therapist she was a late-night DJ and needed to schedule afternoon appointments, so she could sleep in the morning.

But the document said the therapist later found Pester's "DJ job" was actually an online avatar DJ.

Reporter Tess Maune: "Does it strike you as strange that police said she told the therapist that she had a DJ job when she was actually referring to Second Life?

Victoria McClain: "Probably a little bit. If I were to be a DJ, as well, I would have probably said the same thing. Even though it's just a game, people do rely on you to be there to provide entertainment for the people that come in to listen and enjoy the music being played."

As the parents were being arrested Tuesday, Knapp asked police if the girl had died.