- Associated Press - Thursday, February 16, 2012

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Neighbors of a severely malnourished Wisconsin teenager found wandering outside, her bare feet purple and her face bleeding, say they rarely saw the girl leave home, and when she did emerge, she would scavenge through the trash and eat discarded scraps.

At least two neighbors called social services to report potential abuse at the house, but it wasn’t until the 15-year-old was spotted walking outside in the cold last week wearing just thin pajamas that details of what she allegedly endured were revealed. Authorities say she was forced to stay in an unfinished basement for years and eat her own feces. Her father and stepmother have been arrested on suspicion of child abuse and neglect, and a hearing is set for Thursday.

Mark Stuntebeck, who lives next door to the family in Madison, said he called child protective services within the last two years after he saw the girl taking out the garbage and scavenging through it to find food. He doesn’t know if anyone ever followed up with the girl’s family.

“She seemed to be hiding and munching on crumbs or remnants of something,” Mr. Stuntebeck, 44, said.

Melissa Clark, 38, who lives across the street, said the girl rarely came outside, but she could hear her family berating her inside the house. Ms. Clark’s mother, who was visiting from Florida last year, noticed the girl and called child protective services. Ms. Clark said she doesn’t know if anything was done.

Her parents once yelled at her for showing too much skin when she was bent over and her blouse hung off her, Ms. Clark said.

“It was horrible,” she said. “She was treated like Cinderella.”

Sara Buschman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services, said Wednesday she couldn’t immediately comment but planned to have more information Thursday.

The 40-year-old father and 42-year-old stepmother, whom the Associated Press is not naming to protect the girl’s identity, were each being held on $20,000 bail after their arrests last week. Their hearing Thursday is expected to include a review of their bail and a discussion about the status of the potential charges, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Wednesday that the teen was getting medical treatment and remained in protective custody.

The girl, who weighed only 70 pounds, told authorities she had been forced to stay in the unfinished basement of her father and stepmother’s home since 2006 and that an alarm would sound if she went upstairs. She said she ate what she could find in the garbage and sometimes she was made to eat her own feces and drink her urine, according to a police affidavit.

She said that if she was caught eating without permission, the couple would make her throw out the food or vomit it back up.

The allegations came to light after Mike Vega saw the girl walking in thin pajamas, barefoot and crying, on a cold Feb. 6 afternoon. She was bleeding from a gash on her nose and other small scrapes and was so scrawny he mistook her for an 8-year-old. He called police.

“It was the most shocking thing I have ever seen,” Mr. Vega, 31, said Wednesday, recalling the day he found her. “A little girl looking like that. I’ve never seen anybody look like that, to be honest.”

A doctor quoted in police reports said what the girl went through before Mr. Vega found her amounted to “torture.”

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