State turns over records in case of girl in closet

Friday, May 3, 2013 | 8:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:38 a.m. CDT, Friday, May 3, 2013

KANSAS CITY — Ten months after The Kansas City Star requested records in the case of a young Kansas City girl found malnourished and locked in a closet, Missouri officials on Thursday provided the information.

The Star received hundreds of pages of records Thursday on a CD from the Missouri Department of Social Services, including medical information from Children's Mercy Hospital about the girl known as LP, who was treated there after being rescued from the closet in late June, the newspaper reported.

A caseworker and police officer found the then-10-year-old in the closet amid her own urine and feces and weighing just 32 pounds. She told authorities she wasn't allowed to eat some days, and on others she had to eat in the closet or behind a couch.

The newspaper received the records according to a state law that says the DSS can release information in cases in which there's a child fatality or near-fatality. Initially an agency spokeswoman refused to provide information and wouldn't even acknowledge the case.

When The Star insisted that state law allows information to be released when a child was near death, the spokeswoman, Rebecca Woelfel, responded with an email in July stating: "This is now in the hands of the criminal justice system. We will reserve any further comments until the conclusion of that process."

According to the documents, LP first came to the attention of the state's child welfare system in February 2006, when the girl's mother admitted that she intentionally withheld food from the girl so she wouldn't go to the bathroom too often. The state took over supervision of LP and a younger sister.

The mother got her daughters back about 13 months later, after she had worked through a checklist of requirements set by the state.

But a month later, LP stopped going to school and disappeared from sight. Neighbors have said they didn't even know the girl lived in the apartment, although they often saw the mother with her two younger daughters, who appeared well kept and had nice clothes.

Five years later, the mother has been charged with three felony counts of child abuse, child endangerment and first-degree assault. She has pleaded not guilty and is in jail awaiting trial. Her next hearing is set for May 10.

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