SWANS - "God Damn the Sun"
When We Were Young
We Had No History
So Nothing To Lose
Meant We Could Choose
Choose What We Wanted Then
Without Any Fear
Or Thought Of Revenge
But Then You Grew Old
And I Lost My Ambition
So I Gained An Addiction
To Drink And Depression
They Are Mine
My Only True Friends
And I'll Keep Them With Me
Until The Very End
I'd Choose Not To Remember
But I Miss Your Arrogance
And I Need Your Intelligence
And Your Hate For Authority
But Now You're Gone
I Read It Today
They Found You In Spain
Face Down In The Street
With A Bottle In Your Hand
And A Wild Smile On Your Face
And A Knife In Your Back
You Died In A Foreign Land
And They Found My Letter
Rolled Up In Your Pocket
Where I Said I'd Kill Myself
If She Left Me Again
So Now She's Gone
And You're Both In My Mind
I've Got One Thing To Say
Before I Am Drunk Again:
God Damn The Sun
God Damn The Sun
God Damn Anyone
That Says A Kind Word
God Damn The Sun
God Damn The Sun
God Damn The Light It Shines
And This World It Shows
God Damn The Sun
GIRL FOUND IN HORROR CLOSET
COULDN'T SPEAK, EAT - HAD NEVER SEEN THE SUN
By LANE DeGREGORY
Posted: 4:19 am
August 10, 2008
PLANT CITY, Florida - The family had lived in the rundown rental house for almost three years when someone first saw a child's face in the window.
A little girl, pale, with dark eyes, lifted a dirty blanket above the broken glass and peered out, one neighbor remembered.
The girl looked young. And too thin. Her cheeks seemed sunken; her eyes were lost.
The child stared into the square of sunlight, then slipped away.
Months went by. The face never reappeared.
Just before noon on July 13, 2005, a Plant City police car pulled up outside. Two officers went into the house - and one stumbled back out.
Clutching his stomach, the rookie retched in the weeds.
Someone had finally called the police.
Plant City Detective Mark Holste and his young partner found a car parked outside. A woman was slumped over in her seat, sobbing. She was an investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families.
"Unbelievable," she told Holste. "The worst I've ever seen."
"I've been in rooms with bodies rotting there for a week and it never stunk that bad," Holste said later. "Urine and feces - dog, cat and human excrement - smeared on the walls, mashed into the carpet. Everything dank and rotting."
Tattered curtains, yellow with cigarette smoke, dangling from bent metal rods. Cardboard and old comforters stuffed into broken, grimy windows. Trash blanketing the stained couch, the sticky counters.
The floor, walls, even the ceiling seemed to sway beneath legions of scuttling roaches.
"It sounded like you were walking on eggshells. You couldn't take a step without crunching German cockroaches," the detective said. "They were in the lights, in the furniture. Even inside the freezer. The freezer!"
A stout woman in a faded housecoat demanded to know what was going on. Yes, she lived there. Yes, those were her two sons in the living room. Her daughter? Well, yes, she had a daughter . . .
The detective turned the handle on a door, which opened into a space the size of a walk-in closet. He squinted in the dark.
At his feet, something stirred.
First he saw the girl's eyes: dark and wide, unfocused, unblinking. She wasn't looking at him so much as through him.
She lay on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. Her ribs and collarbone jutted out; one skinny arm was slung over her face; her black hair was matted, crawling with lice.
Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin. Though she looked old enough to be in school, she was naked - except for a swollen diaper.
"The pile of dirty diapers in that room must have been 4 feet high," the detective said. "That child was just lying there, surrounded by her own excrement and bugs."
When he bent to lift her, she yelped like a lamb. "It felt like I was picking up a baby," Holste said. "I put her over my shoulder, and that diaper started leaking down my leg."
Choking back rage, he approached the mother. How could you let this happen?
"The mother's statement was: 'I'm doing the best I can.' "
THE detective carried the girl past her mother in the doorway, who was shrieking, "Don't take my baby!" He buckled the child into the state investigator's car.
"Radio ahead to Tampa General," the detective remembers telling his partner.
Her name, her mother had said, was Danielle. She was almost 7 years old.
She weighed 46 pounds. In the pediatric intensive-care unit, they tried to feed the girl, but she couldn't chew or swallow solid food. So they put her on an IV and let her drink from a bottle.
Aides bathed her, scrubbed the sores on her face, trimmed her torn fingernails. They had to cut her tangled hair before they could comb out the lice.
Her caseworker determined that she had never been to school, never seen a doctor. She didn't know how to hold a doll, didn't understand peek-a-boo. A doctor would write, "The child will be disabled for the rest of her life."
Hunched in an oversized crib, Danielle curled in on herself like a potato bug, then writhed angrily, kicking and thrashing. To calm herself, she batted at her toes and sucked her fists.
She wouldn't make eye contact. She didn't react to heat or cold - or pain. The insertion of an IV needle elicited no reaction. She never cried. With a nurse holding her hands, she could stand and walk sideways on her toes, like a crab. She couldn't talk, didn't know how to nod yes or no. Once in a while, she grunted.
She wasn't deaf, wasn't autistic, had no physical ailments such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
The doctors and social workers had no way of knowing all that had happened to Danielle. But they believed she had never been cared for beyond basic sustenance. They doubted she had ever been taken out in the sun. She was fragile and beautiful, but whatever makes a person human seemed somehow missing.
Dr. Kathleen Armstrong, director of pediatric psychology at the University of South Florida medical school, called the girl's condition "environmental autism." Danielle had been deprived of interaction for so long, the doctor believed, that she had withdrawn into herself.
"There was no light in her eye, no response or recognition," Armstrong said. "We saw a little girl who didn't even respond to hugs or affection. Even a child with the most severe autism responds to those."
THE authorities had discov ered the rarest and most pitiable of creatures: a feral child.
The term is not a diagnosis. It comes from historic accounts - some fictional, some true - of children raised by animals and therefore not exposed to human nurturing.
It is said that during the 13th century, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II gave a group of infants to some nuns. He told them to take care of the children but never speak to them. He believed the babies would eventually reveal the true language of God. Instead, they died from the lack of interaction.
"In the first five years of life, 85 percent of the brain is developed," Armstrong said. "Those early relationships, more than anything else, help wire the brain and provide children with the experience to trust, to develop language, to communicate. They need that system to relate to the world."
Danielle had probably missed the chance to learn speech, but maybe she could come to understand language, to communicate in other ways.
Danielle spent six weeks at Tampa General. Eventually, she was placed in a group home. In October 2005, a couple of weeks after she turned 7, Danielle started school in a special-ed class at Sanders Elementary.
"If you put food anywhere near her, she'd grab it" and mouth it like a baby, said Kevin O'Keefe, Danielle's first teacher. "She had a lot of episodes of great agitation, yelling, flailing her arms, rolling into a fetal position.
"She'd curl up in a closet, just to be away from everyone. She didn't know how to climb a slide or swing on a swing. She didn't want to be touched."
It took her a year just to become consolable, he said.
By Thanksgiving 2006, her caseworker was thinking about finding her a permanent home.
Luanne Panacek, executive director of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, decided to include Danielle in the Heart Gallery - a set of portraits depicting children available for adoption displayed in malls and on the Internet.
BERNIE LIEROW, 48, and Diane Lierow, 45, have four grown sons from previous marriages and one together. Diane couldn't have any more children, and Bernie had always wanted a daughter. So last year, when their son William was 9, they decided to adopt.
When they met Danielle at her school, she was drooling. Her tongue hung from her mouth. Her head, which seemed too big for her thin neck, lolled side to side.
When they met Danielle at her school, Diane walked over and spoke to her softly. Danielle didn't seem to notice. But when Bernie bent down, Danielle turned toward him and her eyes seemed to focus. He held out his hand. She let him pull her to her feet.
Bernie led Danielle to the playground, she pulling sideways and prancing on her tiptoes. She squinted in the sunlight but let him push her gently on the swing. When it was time for them to part, Bernie swore he saw Danielle wave.
They brought Danielle home on Easter weekend 2007.
"It was a disaster," Bernie said.
They gave her a doll; she bit off its hands. They took her to the beach; she screamed and wouldn't put her feet in the sand. Back at her new home, she tore from room to room, her swim diaper spewing streams across the carpet.
She couldn't peel the wrapper from a chocolate egg, so she ate the shiny paper too. She couldn't hold a crayon. When they tried to brush her teeth or comb her hair, she kicked and thrashed.
She wouldn't lie in a bed, wouldn't go to sleep, just rolled on her back, side to side, for hours. All night, she kept popping up, creeping sideways on her toes into the kitchen. She would pull out the frozen food drawer and stand on the bags of vegetables so she could see into the refrigerator.
Bernie and Diane already thought of Danielle as their daughter, but Danielle's birth mother did not want to give her up even though she had been charged with child abuse and faced 20 years in prison. So prosecutors offered a deal: If she waived her parental rights, they wouldn't send her to jail.
She took the plea.
After a year with her new family, "Dani" (as they call her) has grown a foot, and her weight has doubled.
Since she started going to the beach and swimming in their backyard pool, Dani's shoulder-length hair has turned a golden blond.
She's learning right from wrong, they say. And she seems upset when she knows she has disappointed them. They take her to occupational and physical therapy, to church and the mall and the grocery store. They have her in speech classes and horseback-riding lessons.
SHE'S out there somewhere, looming over Danielle's story like a ghost.
Michelle Crockett lives in a mobile home in Plant City with her two 20-something sons, three cats and a closet full of kittens.
Sitting in her kitchen, chain-smoking 305s, Michelle says she was a student at the University of Tampa when she met a man named Bernie at a bar. It was 1976. They had two sons.
Bernard died in August 1997. Six months later, she met a man in a casino. "His name was Ron," she says. She shakes her head. "No, it was Bob. I think it was Bob."
Danielle, she says, was born in a hospital in Las Vegas, a healthy baby who weighed 7 pounds, 6 ounces. Her Apgar score measuring her health was a 9, nearly perfect.
When Danielle was 18 months old, Michelle headed to Florida. She got hired as a cashier at a Publix supermarket. But it was OK: "The boys were with [Danielle]," she says.
She goes to the boys' bathroom, returns with a box full of documents.
The earliest are from Feb. 11, 2002. A caller reported that a child, about 3, was "left unattended for days with a retarded older brother, never seen wearing anything but a diaper."
Nine months later, another call to authorities. A person who knew Michelle from the Moose Lodge said she was always there playing bingo with her new boyfriend, leaving her children alone overnight.
Michelle insists Danielle was fine.
A judge ordered Michelle to have a psychological evaluation.
Danielle's IQ, the report says, is below 50, indicating "severe mental retardation." Michelle's is 77, "borderline range of intellectual ability."
Michelle is on probation until 2012.
© Copyright St. Petersburg Times. Reprinted with permission.