Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grandparents want custody of 6-year-old boy with Down syndrome in Kansas, who was found starving in attic

From AOL News:

The grandparents of a 6-year-old boy with Down syndrome who was found starving in an attic crawl space in his mother's home plan to fight for custody of the child and his two sisters, their lawyer told media outlets August 23.

Giovanni De Lao weighed just 17 pounds when he was found Aug. 17 and taken to Children's Mercy Hospital in De Soto, Kan., authorities said.

"Imagine what the concentration camp survivors looked like and that gives you an idea of what Giovanni looked like," the grandparent's attorney, Sarah Swain, told Fox 4 News.

After the grandparents called authorities and said they had not seen Giovanni for four months, deputies with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office went to the home of 26-year-old Rachel L. Perez (pictured) on Aug. 17 to conduct a welfare check on the boy.

Deputies said they spoke with Perez, who told them her son was staying with his biological father. Perez was then arrested on an unrelated outstanding traffic warrant.

Later that night, at the insistence of the grandparents, deputies returned to the house. During their second sweep of the residence, they found Giovanni in a filthy attic crawlspace that was filled with feces.

The boy, who has Down syndrome, was "very fragile and malnourished," said a statement from the Sheriff's Office.

"The boy was extremely thin and his skeletal structure could easily be seen due to his level of malnourishment," said Master Deputy Tom Erickson.

Giovanni was taken to Children's Mercy Hospital, where officials told police he weighed just 17 pounds. A healthy 6-year-old boy should weigh around 50 pounds.

Local media quoted family members as saying Giovanni was improving at the hospital, where he was gaining weight and playing with toys.

The property manager of the duplex where Perez lived said he never knew Giovanni was inside the house.

"I didn't know she had a son with Down syndrome," the manager told KCTV. "They found him in the attic full of feces on his face."

Perez, who is five months pregnant and the mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 8, was charged with child abuse and child endangerment. She is being held at the Johnson County Detention Center in lieu of a $250,000 bond.

Swain said her clients want custody of Giovanni and his sisters. They are also angry at law enforcement and child protective investigators. The grandparents say deputies should have found Giovanni the first time they want to the house. And they say they had made previous reports to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, but the agency failed to take action.

"SRS needs to be held accountable for situations where reports are being made, where children are obviously being neglected and they choose to do nothing," Swain told Fox. "Their job is to protect children, and Giovanni was not protected by them."

Calls for comment from AOL News to SRS and the Johnson County Sheriff's Office were not returned.