Couple charged for starving toddler to death, sheriff says
POLK COUNTY, Fla. (Gray News) – A 2-year-old girl weighed just 9.5 pounds when she was found dead earlier this week in an inflatable pool that was being used as a makeshift playpen.
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, an autopsy showed the 34-month-old girl had no food in her stomach and had suffered from long-term starvation.
Sheriff Grady Judd said during a press conference the little girl had only gained 1 ounce only in two years and four months, adding she was basically, “just skin and bones.”
“We are exceptionally frustrated because, obviously, someone had to have seen the child in this condition,” Judd said. “Even if you didn’t know this child was [almost] 3-years-old, you look at this child and gasp at the horror you saw and the pain this child went through.”
The young girl’s parents, Arhonda Tillman, 35, and Regis Johnson, 57, were both arrested and charged with negligent child abuse causing great harm.
Johnson told detectives he put his daughter in the inflatable pool around 5:15 Tuesday morning and she began playing with her toys.
He left briefly and saw the girl was “cold to the touch and not breathing” when he returned.
According to the sheriff’s office, Tillman claimed she tried to feed her daughter the night before, but she wouldn’t eat.
Johnson initially told detectives his daughter’s most recent doctor’s appointment was in August 2021, but later admitted the toddler hadn’t seen a pediatrician since January 2020 – at her 6-month-old checkup.
Detectives say the pediatrician’s office tried to contact the parents several times because there was concern the child may have had Cystic Fibrosis.
Johnson told detectives he “knew the victim was losing weight and was not thriving” and still did not seek medical attention, according to the sheriff’s office.
An investigation revealed the Department of Children and Families began a medical neglect investigation that showed the toddler was consistently losing weight and her parents failed to follow up with doctor appointments.
“This is egregious and should never have occurred. Because of the actions of these parents, this little girl will never have the opportunity to grow up,” Judd said in a press release.
There were no other children in the home, but Judd said Tillman told authorities she is four months pregnant.
The sheriff said authorities will ensure the unborn child will receive proper care, if Tillman is, in fact, pregnant.
The investigation is ongoing and more charges are pending.
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