Dani Lierow

The Tampa Bay Times reported four years ago on the story of Dani Lierow, which is the saddest non-fictional account I have ever read. Dani entered civilization for the first time at age six when a neighbor called the police to report a case of child abuse. The call was well warranted. Reporter Lane DeGregory describes what the responding officers encountered at her house:

First he saw the girl’s eyes: dark and wide, unfocused, unblinking. She wasn’t looking at him so much as through him.

She lay on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side, long legs tucked into her emaciated chest. Her ribs and collarbone jutted out; one skinny arm was slung over her face; her black hair was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin. Though she looked old enough to be in school, she was naked — except for a swollen diaper.

“The pile of dirty diapers in that room must have been 4 feet high,” the detective said. “The glass in the window had been broken, and that child was just lying there, surrounded by her own excrement and bugs.”

Dani had, for nearly seven years, experienced almost no human interaction. She “missed the chance” to learn speech. She had scarcely been held, and likely had never been allowed outdoors.

Her caseworker determined that she had never been to school, never seen a doctor. She didn’t know how to hold a doll, didn’t understand peek-a-boo. “Due to the severe neglect,” a doctor would write, “the child will be disabled for the rest of her life.”

This is more injustice than should exist in the whole world, heaped onto a single innocent human being. Dani didn’t starve because she was born into poverty. She didn’t crave the outdoors because she lived somewhere unsafe. She suffered simply because her mother did not think it important to interact with her child.

I can’t begin to summarize this story. Read the article in full and visit the Dani’s Story website to see pictures of Dani more recently with her new family. Bernie and Diane Lierow adopted Dani at age eight knowing that she still wore diapers, that she couldn’t speak, and that she may never develop in the most basic ways parents wish for their children. The amount of good they’ve done can’t ever undo the evil that’s already been wrought, but it is all anyone could ever give.

As I had hoped, the Dani’s Story website does include a link to donate via PayPal toward Dani’s therapy and long-term care. Nobody’s asked for anything, but the ability to donate — to do something — just feels necessary when we are all so powerless to do anything more substantial.