In the summer of 2008, The St. Petersburg Times broke a story of extreme child neglect that caused public outcry across the state of Florida and beyond. The story centered on a little girl named Danielle...a child no one knew existed.
Neighbors knew a woman lived with her boyfriend and two sons in a house on their street but said they had never seen Danielle. Then, one day, a neighbor told authorities that she saw a little girl lift a dirty blanket and peer out of a broken window.
On July 13, 2005, police officers responded to the neighbor's call and went to the home in question. Once inside, Detective Mark Holste says he was struck by the living conditions. "There was animal feces on the floor. There was chewed-up food everywhere," he says. "There were cigarette butts everywhere, and there were spider webs hanging from the ceiling. There were thousands and thousands of cockroaches."
Watch Detective Holste return to the crime scene.
The officers found Danielle in one of the bedrooms. "When she saw me, her mouth dropped open, and she did the little crab walk into the corner, tucked her knees up to her, wrapped her hands around her knees and started making grunting noises," Detective Holste says. "I noticed she had insect bites from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. The only thing she was wearing was a diaper, which had been soiled for quite some time, and she weighed nothing."
Detective Holste says he picked Danielle up into his arms and carried her into the living room, where her mother was waiting. "I said: 'How could this happen? How could you let this happen?'" he says. "And she said, 'I'm doing the very best I can.' And I told her, 'Your best is not good enough.'"
At the time, Danielle was 6 years old and weighed just 43 pounds.