MILWAUKEE (AP) — Neighbors of a severely malnourished Wisconsin teenager found wandering outside, her bare feet purple and her face bleeding, say they rarely saw the girl leave home, and that when she did emerge she would scavenge through the trash and eat discarded scraps.

At least two neighbors called social services to report potential abuse at the house, but it wasn’t until the 15-year-old was spotted walking outside in the cold last week wearing just thin pajamas that details of what she allegedly endured were revealed. Authorities say she was forced to stay in an unfinished basement for years and eat her own feces. Her father and stepmother have been arrested on suspicion of child abuse and neglect, and a hearing is set for Thursday.

Mark Stuntebeck, who lives next door to the family in Madison, said he called child protective services within the last two years after he saw the girl taking out the garbage and scavenging through it to find food. He doesn’t know if anyone ever followed up with the girl’s family.

“She seemed to be hiding and munching on crumbs or remnants of something,” said Stuntebeck, 44.

Melissa Clark, 38, who lives across the street, said the girl rarely came outside but she could hear her family berating her inside the house. Clark’s mother, who was visiting from Florida last year, noticed the girl and called child protective services. Clark said she doesn’t know if anything was done.

Her parents once yelled at her for showing too much skin when she was bent over and her blouse hung off her, Clark said.

“It was horrible,” she said. “She was treated like Cinderella.”

State Department of Health Services spokesman Sara Buschman said Wednesday she couldn’t immediately comment but planned to have more information Thursday.

The 40-year-old father and 42-year-old stepmother, whom The Associated Press is not naming to protect the girl’s identity, were each being held on $20,000 bail after their arrests last week. Their hearing Thursday is expected to include a review of their bail and a discussion about the status of the potential charges, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Wednesday that the teen was getting medical treatment and remained in protective custody.

The girl, who only weighed 70 pounds, told authorities she had been forced to stay in the unfinished basement of her father and stepmother’s home since 2006 and that an alarm would sound if she went upstairs. She said she ate what she could find in the garbage and sometimes she was made to eat her own feces and drink her urine, according to a police affidavit.

She said if she was caught eating without permission, the couple would make her throw out the food or vomit it back up.

The allegations came to light after Mike Vega saw the girl walking in thin pajamas, barefoot and crying on a cold Feb. 6 afternoon. She was bleeding from a gash on her nose and other small scrapes and was so scrawny he mistook her for an 8-year-old. He called police.

“It was the most shocking thing I have ever seen,” Vega, 31, said Wednesday, recalling the day he found her. “A little girl looking like that. I’ve never seen anybody look like that, to be honest.”

A doctor quoted in police reports said what the girl went through before Vega found her amounted to “torture.”

Vega, who lives about a mile from the girl and her family, said he was driving on a busy street not far from home when he spotted her. As he slowly passed her, he looked through his rearview mirror and saw her bare feet, which were purple from the cold. He backed up, and she told him she needed help.

Once she was inside Vega’s car, she was scared at first, but Vega said she became more comfortable after he showed her photos of his three young sons and a Mary Poppins video on his cellphone.

According to police records, the girl told authorities she had been let out of the basement that day to “clean some papers” for her stepmother and that the woman became angry because she wasn’t working fast enough.

The teen told Vega the stepmother threw her back downstairs but she managed to escape out a window. Vega said the girl told him she feared the woman would throw her down the stairs again. She said the woman even threatened to kill her.

Vega said the girl “wasn’t crying, wasn’t hysterical” when she spoke about her stepmother’s alleged death threat. “But it wasn’t nonchalant either,” he said. “You could see fear in her eyes. It was very disturbing.”

Barbara Knox, a physician at American Family Children’s Hospital quoted in the police reports, told officers the malnutrition the girl suffered “poses a significant risk of death” and that chronic starvation had caused her puberty to be arrested. Knox also said the girl would be at high risk for other disorders and complications that can lead to death.

The teen said her stepmother homeschooled her using a third-grade workbook, according to the affidavit.

The girl’s 18-year-old stepbrother also was arrested on a probation and parole hold. DeSpain said he couldn’t comment on the arrest. Two other minors in the home were taken into protective custody, DeSpain said.

Police said they encountered the girl in 2007, when someone alleged she might have been molested by a family member. The girl did not corroborate the allegation and her family was not cooperative, police said.

She appeared healthy at the time, police said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (26)
  1. Kevin says:

    Shoot both parents…..

    1. sad but true says:


    2. uh huh says:

      hang ’em up unscathed and then gut ’em like the pigs they are….

      1. Frank Lee says:

        Jail much too comfy for these two animals,whos’ spirits apparently left their habitationbs and left empty shells

    3. Social Workers, ha - you mean social non-workers says:

      And the moron social workers. Seems that moronic social workers are a universal problem – not only do they suck right here in our own state, they suck in Wisconsin too! And they strut around like the Ho’s they are, and act like they’re some sort of valued resource. Think again, losers – you’re nothing but another drag on the State’s economy regarding useless workers.

      1. Frank Lee says:

        Agree@social workers.And the few good ones get their hands tied.

      2. madder then a wet hen says:

        I agree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Trista says:

    Here is another AWFUL example of the “JUSTICE SYSTEM” gone wrong. This is a damn shame! Shame on these neighbors turning their backs on this child. In this day and age? Don’t EVER call ‘social services’, you call the police.And the police report for 2007? What became of that? Social services people just hide in their office all day and are so jaded from false reports of mistreatment they DON’T CARE. As far as I’m concerned, there is no difference between these neighbors and Joe Paterno. No excuse for this.

  3. l says:

    doesnt look like father or mother are starving, give back what they gave this poor girl. its a shame. failure at all levels. just hope she is safe now and recovers i pray for this poor girl. and you are right, call 911 no matter what!! it makes me cry…..

  4. CMC says:

    Thank you, Mr. Vega, for having the courage to pick her up, for assuring her that you are a caring person, for following through by calling the police. Many people would have just kept on driving. You probably saved her life. You’re a good person.

  5. Bruce says:

    again only in a state that cuts everything to help those in need ,so many fall through the cracks in the system-this child went through hell because no one did there job

  6. richard says:

    Another reason why stupid people should not be allowed to have kids

  7. chuck says:

    Still looks to me like there were too few zeros in the bail setting.

  8. Ace says:

    It’s outrageous, is this a third world country now?

    1. madder then a wet hen says:

      Yes, this is a third world country. The State Rep. have passed laws so stringent that you can hardly be a parent anymore. The system is all about the priviatization and corporations who have contracts with the counties for services for certain populations. They say ‘we have no money’ but they do through corps. The certain population gets the attention because that is where the funds are! Counties will go after cases under false allegations and move it quickly though court under a ‘protective notice’ because the individual is ‘where the corp dollars are’. Yes, the SSW are lieing in 3/4’s of protective cases. That is why we are seeing these abuse cases never acted upon. They do not follow the money. It is just plain sick. And 3/4’s of children pulled from homes are homes without abuse!!!!!!!! Go figure. They end up in CHIPS court which is the Child Welfare System, a clogged artery of our Government and they never see their home and parents again. Clean the house!

  9. billy says:

    Ok the neighbors called SS but what about school? Did they move & never put her in school so she was never noticed as missing?

  10. d0 d0 says:

    Who pays the salery for these so called “SOCIAL WORKERS” I’m sure there are some real good ones out there, but most seem to be in it for the money and that’s all…..This is sick…and the state did nothing…..

  11. jdjsdlsifrjf54 says:

    Make them eat their own poo until they are almost dead from starvation then torture them until they die!

  12. Missy says:

    This is extraordinarily sad and a totally diabolical twist to what is going on in our country. How many other cases are oiut there? I’m hoping that this is the exception rather than the rule, although Dr. Phil also just had a program on last week about a girl who was locked in a closet for 6 years enduring the same kind of malevolent treatment, and also being sexually abused. Perhaps it’s time to qualify as a parent before allowing folks to have children?

  13. Eugenia Renskoff says:

    Hi, The big question is: Why did it take so long for this girl to get help? E

  14. felice says:

    Yes, sometimes social workers mess up & don’t do what they’re supposed to. But do you realize how MANY parents there are that abuse their kids. They have caseloads so heavy that it’s practically impossilbe to check up on all in a timely manner. Because of budget cuts everywhere, they’re left with even more work per person. Have to stop these people from having kids but because of our “rights” this is never going to happen.

    1. madder then a wet hen says:

      That has not been my experiance at all. They will work when they want to on the cases that scratch their backs the most and continues their pay checks. The system in social services is in need of a complete over haul. And yes, this is NOT America anymore. And it is not true that our rights are always protected. That has not been my experiance either.

  15. fred says:

    these parents need to be dragged out to the street and flogged

  16. JUSTICE FAILED says:

    This is disgusting a 12 cent bullet on each of the three would be too good for them. Hoping somehow someway the girl flourishes in the wake of these horrendous acts. SOCIAL WORKERS YOU FAILED MISERABLY. PATHETIC. Doesn’t take 6 years to review abiuse. Hero status to the gentleman that stopped.

  17. iCat says:

    There needs to be in place a web reporting site by zip code of abuse of kids that others log into to verify their suspicion.

    Everyone has camera’s, start using them.
    If Authorities don’t respond to reports within set time, get them out of that chair and held responsible.

    We’re just seeing what could of been stopped long ago, and this is happening right now to other kids hoping to be saved.

    Social Services could care less, they want the easy process of handing out funds to crack Bunnies spitting out more to feed to get more hand out.

    I’ve seen the filth by Gorilla size women hoarding crack dealers & how 2 yr olds are slapped almost unconscious from crying while they stuff their face as the kid starves.
    Human life means nothing to them.

    Here’s the most uncanny thing they say, ‘Praise the Lord’ when you help them, but’s it’s all deceit to make you walk far enough away thinking all is Ok.

    Had I known this was going on everywhere daily when younger & able, They would get one visit.
    I would of become a one shot kill Sniper of Hope&Faith.

  18. iCat says:

    ANd What did I just Say a moment ago? The Next Day Another Case.

    California mom arrested after naked daughter, 12, found eating out of trash cans

    Read more:

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