[Plant City, FL]
On July 13th, 2005, police got a call from a neighbor saying that he just saw a pale girl with dark eyes lift a dirty blanket up out of a broken window. He had never seen the child before. The neighbors near the small home were only familiar with a mother, her boyfriend, and 2 older sons.
When police showed up to the 800 square foot home, what they stumbled across was appalling. The condition of the house was one of the worst that they had ever seen. All appliances were sticky and the house had a strong odor of feces and urine. There were “thousands and thousands” of cockroaches and piles of animal feces everywhere, according to investigators. One detective got sick due to the condition of the home and had to walk out.
Back in a dark empty room, an officer saw a young little girl in the fetal position. When she saw him, she crab walked into the corner of the room, tucked her knees under herself, and growled. She was wearing a soiled diaper that appeared to be on her for days. There were insect bites all in her hair, as well as lice and other bugs crawling on her head. She was covered in intense rashes and only weighed 46 pounds.
Her name was Danielle Crockett and she was 6 years old.
The little girl panicked while being picked up as if she wasn’t used to human contact at all. She would not make eye contact with anyone and did not know how to speak any words. The police officer who carried Danielle out of the house asked the girl’s mother, Michelle Crockett, how she could let her daughter get this bad. She replied with “I’m doing the very best I can.”
Despite being at the age of 6, doctors compared Danielle’s development to a 6 month old. She would not eat solid food, but knew how to feed from a bottle. She was not potty trained and still sucked on her fingers. When Danielle was brought outside, the stimulation would overwhelm her because she had never been previously exposed to it. As doctors tried to examine her, she behaved like a “wild animal” as she kicked and growled at those who tried to touch her. Medical professionals ultimately concluded that Danielle had missed the essential stimulation she needed to develop properly.
After rescuing Danielle, police uncovered that there had previously been DCFS investigations at Michelle Crockett’s house in 2002. There were reports that Michelle would go off for long hours to drink with her boyfriend. DCFS made two visits to the home and ruled Danielle’s risk as “low.” However, when DCFS visited the home, they never attempted to speak or see Danielle to evaluate her wellbeing. According to Danielle’s lawyer who speaks for her, DCFS did try to offer Michelle daycare resources, but she refused.
The little girl stayed in the hospital and foster care for 2 years until she was adopted by Bernie and Diane Leirow in 2007.
“All they would tell us is you don’t want her and it’s like well we really wanna know more”, said Bernie. The couple was told that Danielle had environmental autism and her care would have to be consistent and overwhelming, but they didn’t care.
When first arriving at her new home in Tennessee, she struggled with food and would eat so much that she threw up thinking it would be her last meal. Yet, she slowly but surely started to improve with her motor skills. Danielle was able to ride horses, swim, swing, use the bathroom, and do simple self care tasks. The Leirows also made it essential that Danielle attend speech therapy sessions.
Michelle Crockett was charged with 2 felony counts of child neglect. She waived her parental rights as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to two years of house arrest and probation. Despite the unthinkable neglect, she never served any time behind bars.
Then after 18 years of marriage, the Leirows divorced after Diane left due to being too overwhelmed with Danielle’s unpredictable behavior throughout puberty. Danielle was left in the care of only Bernie who realized that the responsibility for her was a little too much for him on his own. Due to her developmental issues, she could never be left alone, but Bernie still had to work to make income which made the family dynamic hard. Diane hinted at putting Danielle in a nursing home, but Bernie refused to. Instead, he put her in a group home in Murfreesboro, TN where she has only improved even more with her development.
During her stay, she became more trusting of women. Her aide is the only person that Danielle has ever let comb her hair. Workers at the group home have taught her to toss her laundry in the hamper, to make her own bed, and put her Snoopy stuffed animal on the pillow. “She even knows to wait to eat until grace is done”, her aide said. One thing has not changed about her though. Even after 15 years, Danielle’s favorite place is still outside, away from any type of room.
In present day, Danielle is now 21 years old. She stands at 5 feet and 10 inches and weighs a little over 200 pounds which is a major difference from how she was initially found. She still cannot speak, but judging from how her condition was in the empty room — wearing a soiled diaper, and terrified of humans — she has drastically improved. Danielle has been showered with a sense of comfort that life has better quality to it.
Bernie said that he still tries to visit her as much as possible to take her on fun trips.