Adoptive mom hid body, prosecutors say
Quadriplegic child found dead under mothballs in storage
FLINT - A 9-year-old quadriplegic girl whose body was found under mothballs in a storage unit died at the hands of a neglectful adoptive mother, her physical condition so disastrous that bones were sticking through skin, a prosecutor said Friday in filing a murder charge.
Shylea Myza Thomas of Flint weighed 33 pounds, down nearly half from August 2007, and had many untreated bed sores, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said.
"Nobody should die like this. ... The child suffered - there's no question about it. It's heart-wrenching to every one of us," he said.
Charged with six crimes
Shylea's aunt and adoptive mother, Lorrie Thomas, 39, was charged with six crimes, including second-degree murder, child abuse, tampering with evidence and welfare fraud. The maximum penalty is life in prison.
On April 13, about a month after Shylea's remains were stashed in a storage unit, Thomas cashed a monthly subsidy check from the state of Michigan, which included $2,884.73 for caring for a child with special needs, the prosecutor said.
Wearing orange jail clothes, Thomas appeared in 68th District Court in Flint to hear the charges, two days after her arrest as the main suspect. She struggled to raise her hand to wipe away tears because both wrists were secured to a chain around her belly.
She said she understood the charges and was returned to the county jail with no bond. The next court hearing is Tuesday. A defense lawyer was not immediately assigned.
More than a dozen friends and family members appeared in court with some wearing T-shirts with Shylea's picture and bearing messages of "RIP" and "Our Lil Angel." They declined to speak to reporters.
"My cousin is not a bad person at all," Josette Thomas, 39, said earlier Friday, referring to Lorrie Thomas. "Something happened. She panicked and made a mistake."
8 children in home
As for taking care of Shylea, the adoptive mother "didn't want help from anybody," Josette Thomas said.
"We would ask her, 'How's the baby doing?' We called her baby. She said, 'Fine,' " the cousin recalled.
There were eight kids living in Thomas' home in a depressed Flint neighborhood, including her 15-year-old daughter and the teen's two children.
The children - one as young as 3 months - were placed in the care of the state Department of Human Services.
Shylea had been paralyzed since nearly suffocating in her crib when she was 3 months old.
Fed through stomach tube
The prosecutor said she was supposed to receive special food through a tube in her stomach but instead became a victim of "severe, ongoing malnutrition and neglect."
"She was denied food," Leyton said. "We place that solely on the shoulders of the defendant."
The girl's condition was so bad that bones were sticking through skin, he said.
"I want the public to know there's help out there. ... A child does not need to be placed in a plastic bin and covered with mothballs and put in a storage facility," Leyton said.
Shylea's body was discovered Wednesday at Stor & Lock in Vienna Township, about 65 miles northwest of Detroit, two days after a state caseworker got a tip and was asked to check on her. Thomas had insisted the girl was on her way to Virginia with a friend, and the rest of the family soon would follow, police said.
The investigation showed Thomas rented the storage unit about six weeks ago, the approximate time of Shylea's death.