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    Abused girl on road to recovery

    Police photos reveal the depth of abuse the 7-year-old suffered. Her mother and a boyfriend are in jail.

    By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 24, 2002
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    For weeks, the little girl was locked in a barren bedroom inside a ramshackle Tampa home.

    The 7-year-old's mother and mother's boyfriend fed her an occasional cold hot dog and not much else. She had no toys, no curtains and no bedding. She used a tiny closet as her bathroom.

    Had the child stayed in the room and in the care of those adults, authorities said, she would certainly be dead by now.

    But fortified by strawberry milkshakes, community support and her father's love, the girl made a miraculous recovery in the past two weeks. On Monday, she started her first day of second-grade in Glens Falls, N.Y.

    At about 2:30 p.m., just about the time the school day ended, a Tampa detective 1,500 miles away showed a room full of reporters pictures of the abused child, whose name is being withheld by the Times.

    Those photos revealed that the little girl's existence in Tampa was nothing short of a living hell.

    One was a close-up of a red and purple bite mark on her hip, where her mother's boyfriend allegedly bit her as a punishment. Another showed her emaciated leg. Still another showed the back of her head, where a patch of her hair had fallen out because of malnutrition.

    "I just wanted to reach in and touch her heart," said Tampa police Detective John Yaratch, who flew to New York to interview the little girl. "With a child like this, it's very difficult to do, because she's been so mistreated."

    Yaratch said that the girl's plight so moved the Tampa detective team that they pooled money and gathered used clothing for her. Residents in Glens Falls have also helped, the local newspaper said.

    Yaratch and a team Tampa detectives charged the mother and her boyfriend with several counts of felony child abuse. They are being held at the county jail without bail.

    Yaratch said it is likely that the abuse started years ago, when the family lived in New York.

    During his investigation, he discovered that the girl's mother, Connie Warrington, 23, and her boyfriend, David LaPointe, 36, had locked the child in a room when they lived in Glens Falls. The girl's biological father, Daniel Sims, wasn't allowed to visit his daughter much, according to the Glens Falls Post-Star.

    The girl was hospitalized and treated for emotional problems this year while in New York, but Warrington checked her daughter out against the advice of doctors, Yaratch said.

    Warrington and LaPointe -- who had two children together -- moved the entire family to Florida. Warrington may have fled because she was worried that she would lose custody of her children, authorities said. It is unclear whether New York child welfare authorities were monitoring the family; they did not return phone calls on Monday.

    Sims told the Post-Star he had been trying to gain custody of the girl for years.

    In early September, a New York judge granted Sims custody of his daughter. On Sept. 11, Sims and his mother, Linda Lamica, took a Greyhound bus to Florida to get the girl.

    When they arrived at the Warrington-LaPointe home on Harold Street in South Tampa, they discovered that the girl had been physically and emotionally abused.

    "When she heard her father's voice, she stuck her head out to see if it was really him," Lamica told the Post-Star. "She was looking cautiously, like she was going to get in trouble. I then picked her up and handed her to Dan."

    Sims took his daughter back to New York by bus, then to the hospital when they arrived in Glens Falls. The girl weighed just 29 pounds, about half of what a normal child that age should weigh.

    A hospital worker there called authorities, who in turn, called Tampa detectives.

    Yaratch said that initially the girl would hide her face and respond to his questions with one-word answers. She began to open up and smile when he read her the book, Green Eggs and Ham.

    Yaratch read to her as they sat in a doctor's office waiting to have a bead removed from her ear canal. It was put there by her mother's boyfriend, she said.

    "Anyone who has children, there's no way this can't affect you," said Yaratch. "She didn't have the freedom to be a child."

    Investigators believe the girl, who did not attend school in Florida, had been imprisoned for more than a month.

    Warrington's boyfriend, LaPointe, "hated" the little girl, Yaratch said. LaPointe was jealous of the relationship between the mother and daughter. He insisted that his two children receive superior treatment.

    Yaratch showed chilling photos of those children's bedroom, which included plush toys, neatly hung clothing and a tricycle.

    The abused girl could "hear the other kids laughing and playing," said Yaratch.

    The two children are now in state custody, authorities said.

    Neighbors said that LaPointe was controlling and was the cause of all the girl's troubles.

    Yaratch, however, says Warrington is equally at fault. She could have sent the child to live with her father earlier. She should have tried to protect her little girl, he said.

    "If a mother doesn't do it," said Yaratch, "who's left?"

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