Allains: Truth yet to be revealed
While facts in the case of a 29-pound girl may point to child abuse, the couple say the truth is obscured by one-sided details.
By MICHAEL KRUSE
The Allains started talking to the St. Petersburg Times because they wanted the truth to be told.
Lori Allain, 49, and Arthur "Tommy" Allain, 47, were arrested in June 2004 and charged with starving their 10-year-old foster daughter down to 29 pounds. The Hernando County couple skipped the start of their late-October trial in Brooksville and then went on the lam. That ended Wednesday night in Toms River, N.J., when cops showed up at Room 150 at the local Quality Inn.
The capture should shift the focus of this story back to the crux of the case: What happened to that tiny girl in rural northwest Hernando out by all those NO TRESPASSING signs on Hurricane Drive?
In their last few weeks on the run, so much has been said and re-said, and written and rewritten, but all of this started in May 2004.
In the Allains' smelly, cluttered trailer.
In a room in the rear.
Behind a door with a double-keyed deadbolt.
Fact: The investigation began because of an allegation made by a 14-year-old boy - the girl's half-brother - who has a history of stealing, lying and setting fires. He didn't like the Allains and ran away a lot. He once told a psychologist from the Department of Juvenile Justice that his "usual mood" was "grouchy."
Fact: The girl weighed 29 pounds when she was brought to Oak Hill Hospital late on the night of May 15.
Fact: She was up to 72 pounds by last fall.
But facts are only a part of the truth, and after a few clear, non-negotiable certainties in this case, the picture gets murkier. And in the last couple of weeks before their arrest in New Jersey, the Allains told the Times, over and over, that they feel like everybody's been hearing just one side.
"When's it going to get real?" Lori Allain said in a phone conversation late last month. "When are there going to be two sides?"
"It's like the witch trials," Tom my Allain said this month. "Somebody points a finger and you're burned at the stake."
Through Kristen Staab, 23, one of their two grown daughters in Spring Hill, the Allains gave the Times a 3-inch-thick stack of records and documents. Some of them are public records; some are not. They are sheriff's reports, medical records, court documents and updates from the state Department of Children and Families.
Here, from the documents, is the kind of stuff the Allains probably want people to see:
The girl's brother had made allegations before - verbal abuse, physical abuse, sex abuse - and all DCF investigations turned up "no indicators."
Even up until two months before the girl was taken, DCF caseworkers said mostly nice things in their reports after home visits: "knows that she is safe there and that all of her needs will be met" . . . "will have 3 meals a day and snacks" . . . "should remain at the Allains." Next to these notes, Lori Allain, in neat, loopy script, wrote: "very important."
The girl told an interviewer from the DCF child protection team in 2002 that she "liked living with the Allains." Even in May 2004, and then again in June, she said at times in uneven interviews that she was being fed fine - and then, more than once, changed her story.
A doctor said this in a deposition in March 2005: "I believe she is at a high risk - certainly at risk for permanent problems, permanent personality problems, permanent intellectual problems, permanent social problems. But I am not - I cannot say who did that."
But here, also from the documents, is what the Allains probably don't want people to see:
The girl hadn't been to a doctor since February 2003.
She weighed 30 pounds when she was 5 years old, 39 when she was 6, 36 when she was 7, 35 when she was 8 - then, when she was 10, 29. She was diagnosed at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg with failure to thrive and severe malnutrition. One doctor said she was "at risk of death."
By the time she was released, though, not even two weeks later, she had gained 9 pounds, and was up to 49 in June, 55 in July and 66 in February of 2005.
Then there are photos. The girl is so skinny in May of '04 that her teeth and ears look big. More recent pictures show her filled out almost to the point of chubby.
But the only consistency in the girl's actual telling of what did or didn't happen to her when she was living with the Allains is that there is no consistency.
On May 26, in an interview with someone from the child protection team, she swore to tell the truth in front of a Hernando County detective.
Then she said she was being fed and that her brother just said what he had said because he was mad at Lori Allain. She said she ate cereal for breakfast, Ramen noodles for lunch and sweet and sour chicken for dinner.
Then, later in the same interview, she said she wasn't getting enough food and would eat only when her brother would slip bits of food under the bedroom door.
Then she flipped back again and said she was getting three meals a day.
Not quite a month later, interviewed for a second time by the same person, she said "things were not okay" with the Allains and that she had been kept in her room "24/7."
The girl will be 12 in March. Twelve tough years. Before the Allains became her long-term non-relative caretakers in 2002, her abusive, alcoholic biological mother touched her "privates," made her drink beer when she was 4 and beat her with a belt, a spatula and metal spoons.
That's one reason, the Allains have argued all along, they shouldn't be held wholly legally responsible for the effects of any alleged neglect. She was always small, they said, even with her biological mother.
Tommy Allain told authorities back when all of this first began that he thought the girl was a "dwarf" or an "elf." Lori Allain told them the girl had an eating disorder that made her overeat and throw up.
They have suggested the girl's weight in May of '04 stemmed from earlier neglect.
They also have blamed DCF for not giving them the help and the guidance they needed and wanted - help and guidance they claim was promised.
"It was a headache to them," Tommy Allain told the Times this month. "We tried. We honestly tried as hard as we could."
Friends call the Allains loyal, hard-working and fiercely committed to their family.
Gary Lutman, 53, of Spring Hill has one arm and a bad back.
"Any time I needed anything done, Tommy and Lori would come over to my house," he said last week. "I'm nice to them and they're nice to me."
Czenzi Bartels, 44, of Hudson says she's known the Allains for six years and usually ate Thanksgiving dinner at the trailer on Hurricane Drive.
"If I was stuck on the side of U.S. 19 and called Lori, she would find a way to get me help," Bartels said. "She's just that type of person."
"But they say it like it is," she added. "It's like, "If you don't like it, oh well, I'm telling you the truth.' No phony fronts. They don't put on fronts. They don't try to hide anything."
"Do we sound like monsters who crawled out of a swamp to eat little kids?" Tommy Allain said this month in a phone conversation. "It's beyond belief in my brain. Everybody's just painted us - I don't have words for it."
But words are just that.
So . . . .
Fact: They are charged with child abuse and neglect. Still.
Fact: They fled in late October and were gone until they were found at the hotel in Jersey.
Fact: There will be a trial.
And when that happens, there will be two sides - the state and the defense - and ultimately, finally, more of a chance to get at what the Allains say they've wanted from the very beginning.