Charges weighed in Mich. quadriplegic girl's death

Relates to:
Date: 2009-04-23

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — A prosecutor said Thursday that investigators would be "working all night" to develop a criminal case in the death of a 9-year-old quadriplegic girl whose body was found in a storage unit after her adoptive mother repeatedly insisted she was out of state.

Charges could range from felony murder to lesser charges such as misdemeanor moving a corpse. The woman was arrested Wednesday after police found Shylea Myza Thomas' body in a black trash bag, stuffed into a plastic bin with mothballs and locked in a storage unit near Flint.

Shylea had been taken out of school in January, and relatives told state officials they had not seen her in six weeks. At least one neighbor said she hadn't even been aware the little girl lived there.

"This is a very sad and tragic case that hurts all of us involved in the ongoing investigation," Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said in a statement. "It appears that Shylea had a rough go in life."

A court document filed in the family division of the Genesee County Circuit Court to seize custody of seven other children who were living in the home identified the woman as 39-year-old Lorrie Thomas of Flint. Leyton said he did not know whether Thomas had a lawyer.

Officials said the woman was a blood relative of Shylea's who adopted her through the state. Authorities were reviewing evidence and results from an autopsy before deciding on charges, Leyton said at a late-afternoon news conference.

"I've asked the investigators to do more witness interviews. ... We're going to draft a couple more search warrants. The police are going to be working all night," he said.

"Before I charge somebody with a crime of this magnitude, I want to be sure. There's more information I would like to have to help me make a decision," by Friday, the prosecutor said.

The case unfolded this week when other relatives of the girl told the state Department of Human Services about possible neglect and said they hadn't seen the child in six weeks.

A case worker, Aaron Clum, visited the home Monday and was unable to confirm Shylea's whereabouts. Clum said in the court document that Thomas told him the family was moving to Virginia and the girl was on her way with a friend.

On Tuesday, the department asked Flint police to investigate. Thomas again insisted Shylea was bound for Virginia, Clum wrote, but that could not be confirmed.

Shylea's body was found early Wednesday morning hidden in a unit at Stor & Lock in Vienna Township, about 65 miles northwest of Detroit. The seven other children, ranging in age from 3 months to 15 years, are now in foster care.

Shylea had been paralyzed since nearly suffocating in her crib when she was 3 months old, Leyton said. She lived with several relatives in a Flint home that the prosecutor described as "absolutely filthy."

Shylea's home sits on a tough street with a number of abandoned and boarded-up houses. On Thursday, two children's bicycles sat on the front porch of the two-story home, where no one answered the door.

"For her to have to live like that, and then to die and be stuffed into a bag and plastic bin in a storage facility just breaks my heart," Leyton said.

The girl's family moved into the house around Thanksgiving, said Sabrina Williams, who lives across the street.

She had seen children playing outside, but not Shylea. She said she had seen deliveries of what she believed were medical supplies but added, "I thought she was taking care of an older person."

Williams, 43, said she has been losing sleep since learning about the girl's death and watching the arrest of the adoptive mother. She said the woman "could have gotten some help if she couldn't do it on her own."

The Department of Human Services said it could not comment on whether the girl and adoptive mother were involved with the child welfare system, citing confidentiality rules. But the state does the same background checks, home studies and house visits with would-be adoptive parents who are related to a child as it would for prospective parents who are not related to the child, said Stacie Bowens, director of the department's child welfare bureau in Genesee County.

The state Office of Children's Ombudsman said Thursday it will open an investigation into the death. The agency investigates complaints involving children who are involved with Michigan's child welfare system for reasons of abuse or neglect, and checks to see if public or private agencies followed laws and policies.

Thomas Svitkovich, superintendent of Genesee Intermediate School District, said the girl had been a student at a special education school in the county but was withdrawn by her family Jan. 22. He said he couldn't give any information on why she was taken out.

"The educational community is shocked. We have not ever experienced anything like this," Svitkovich said.

Leyton said he didn't know the whereabouts of Shylea's biological mother.

"She lost custody some years ago. She didn't even show up" at the hearing to terminate her rights, the prosecutor said.

<!-- google_ad_section_end(name=article) -->

Associated Press writers Corey Williams in Detroit and David Eggert in Lansing contributed to this report.


Pound Pup Legacy