KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two little girls in a Kansas City apartment complex had perfectly braided hair, neighbors said Sunday, and were clean, happy and, if anything, “spoiled.”
But the girls, ages 2 and 8, had a secret: a 10-year-old sister who weighed just 32 pounds when she was freed Friday from a locked closet that reeked of urine.
“We are all still shocked,” neighbor Aishah Coppage, 28, said Sunday. “We never knew there was a third child.”
Officers freed the girl, who will turn 11 later this summer, after responding Friday morning to a call from a child abuse hotline. The neighbors — including one of Coppage’s daughters and a niece — watched as the girl was carried to an ambulance wearing a dingy white, toddler-sized shirt and no shoes.
“She was real skinny,” said 14-year-old Kelisha Parrish, Coppage’s niece.
The mother, who lives in public housing, faces charges of assault and child abuse and endangerment in Jackson County Circuit Court. The Associated Press is not naming the mother to protect the child’s identity.
Mike Mansur, a spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office, said he didn’t know if the 29-year-old woman had an attorney. Janet Baker, the woman’s attorney in a previous case, didn’t immediately return a call Sunday seeking comment.
The woman’s boyfriend has been questioned but is not charged. He is not the father of the 10-year-old, but is the father of the two younger children, who are in protective custody.
“You could never assume anything was going on from the way they looked,” said Coppage, who has lived next door to the family for three years. “They seemed spoiled to me because I never saw them get disciplined. It seemed like they didn’t want for nothing.”
The closet where authorities believe the 10-year-old spent much of her time backed up to Coppage’s stairwell. Coppage said she never heard any banging on the walls or cries for help, but added that music was always coming from the neighboring apartment.
“They had birthday parties for the other two girls,” she said. “Everything that a normal person does, they did.”
Coppage said the woman never mentioned the older girl, and that the woman never let her younger daughters outside unless she was supervising them.
Coppage said her own children sometimes played with the neighbor girls on the wooden deck, but never went inside their apartment. Coppage also said the only people she saw going inside her neighbor’s apartment were the woman’s siblings and boyfriend.
The woman made some money braiding hair, but always did it on the steps outside her apartment, Coppage said.
She said that when the woman’s utilities periodically were shut off, the woman would take the two younger girls and stay with a downstairs neighbor or her sister.
“So the whole time, the baby had to be in here,” she said.
According to the probable cause statement, the mother told police that she didn’t let the oldest girl leave the house because she knew she is malnourished and would “get in trouble if someone saw her.”
Mansur, the prosecutor’s spokesman, said the mother hasn’t said why she singled the girl out.
The girl, who was taken to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, told detectives she gets in trouble “because she keeps peeing on herself.”
Authorities have not released the girl’s name, and the hospital declined to provide an update on the girl’s condition Sunday without her name.
Because of what has happened, Coppage is thinking about asking to be moved to a different unit, adding that her 12-year-old daughter is having a tough time.
“She don’t even like to be here,” Coppage said. “She is scared.”