Father Adopts ‘Feral Child’ Who Was Locked In Tiny Room For The First 6 Years of Her Life
When Bernie Lierow and his then wife Dianne saw Dani’s picture at an adoption event, they knew they had to become her parents even if her story was nothing short of tragic.
It’s said there’s nothing more precious than a parent’s love for a child, but a tragic truth is that there are abusive parents out there, who don’t have their child’s best interest at heart.
Danielle “Dani” Lierow was entrapped by her mother inside their home for the first six years of her life. This child, once discovered, was said to be “feral” – she couldn’t eat, read, or write.
When Dani was found in July of 2005, the detectives who discovered her thought it to be the worst level of child abuse they had ever seen, as reported in Tampa Bay Times.
Watch this Goalcast video for helpful parenting tools:
She grew up in solitary confinement
Dani was found after a neighbor saw the trapped girl looking out of a broken window. Detectives entered the house and found her in small room, the size of a closet, surrounded by dirt, rodents, and legs covered in her own excrement.
Danielle was curled up in a moldy mattress, covered in lice, maggots and flies, a result of the filthy conditions she had been living in.
Her case was the “the worst neglect situation I’ve ever seen,” said Mark Holste, the Plant City police detective who found her. He said the smell inside the home made him sick, CBN reported, which described her as a “true feral child.”
The girl weighed only 46 pounds, and according to the doctors, she couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk, and couldn’t eat food.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 27 years now, and this is by far … the worst, added Holste in the CBN video.
Detectives eventually figured out she was nearly 7 years old and was “kept behind a closed door, in a space the size of a walk-in closet, alone in the dark,” reported the Times.
Her mother didn’t even realize her own abuse
Before being discovered by police in 2005, people had actually reported seeing a little girl neglected and starving twice in 2002. Social workers did reach out to her mother but she refused the help, and so nothing was done.
Michelle Crockett, a single mother and widow, was arrested, but claimed to officials that she did the best she could. She ultimately only got sentenced to two years of house arrest, reported The Associated Press.
After that, Dani was taken in by child services. She was hospitalized for about six weeks. She could only eat with the help of a bottle.
“We did genetic tests, neurological scans. There was nothing wrong with her. But she wasn’t stimulated at all,” Kathleen Armstrong of the University of South Florida told the Times.
I’d been a school psychologist for 20 years, but I’d never seen a child like Dani.Kathleen Armstrong
Who would take a ‘feral’ child in?
Two years after she was rescued, Dani was adopted by Bernie and Diane Lierow, who told the Times that they wanted a daughter and thought God placed her in their lives.
She just looked like she needed us.Bernie Lierow
They had first met with an adoption agency about Dani. “All they would say was ‘you definitely don’t want her,’” said Bernie in the CBN video. But, according to Dianne, “I just felt drawn to her.”
Eventually one of the ladies told my wife; ‘there’s something wrong with her, that girl isn’t suitable for adoption.’Bernie Lierow
But despite all the warnings and naysayers, they took her in. As soon as they saw her picture at an adoption event in Tampa Bay, they were moved by “her dark empty eyes.”
Raising Dani was challenging
Due to the conditions she grew up in, Dani had a multitude of developmental issues, which made her upbringing difficult. Obviously, this was difficult for the Lierows, who didn’t know what their parenting journey would be like.
We didn’t know if she’d ever eat with a fork and a spoon. You start to think: I don’t know how far this child is going to go.
The Lierows had to potty-train Dani and teach her other basic developmental things that infants learn. Nothing deterred them. They were determined to give Dani the chance she deserved to grow and develop to the best of her capacities.
The Lierows spared nothing in their efforts: they took her to the beach, horseback riding therapy, occupational therapy, church, several doctors and taught her to swim. They even put her in public school, in special education classes. Dani also had private speech therapy five days a week.
In 2011, they reported some improvements. Dani could accomplish some tasks she was previously unable to do on her own.
“She can go to the cupboard, get a glass and get herself a drink of water. And she’s much more open; she will look at people now, and sometimes she will go to people she doesn’t know that well,” they told the Daily Mail.
But Dani still showed no sign of speech
While Dani did improve in certain behavioral aspects, she was still unable to communicate. “She’d eat her toothbrush. Eat her hairbrush. They wanted me to teach her sign language, but I gave up on that,” Bernie said. “She’d never sign back.”
Dianne eventually gave up on hope but Bernie never did.
I told myself, this is the way it is. We adopted her. I’ll never give up on my baby. But after about three years, Diane was done. She figured Dani had gone about as far as she was going to get.
After 18 years of marriage, the Lierows got a divorce.
While Bernie doesn’t blame Dani for the divorce, he still acknowledges that taking care of her took a toll on his marriage. It was a stressful responsibility, which left them with little time to spend as a couple.
Throughout it all, Bernie never gave up on his daughter
As Dani grew older, Bernie eventually came to terms with the fact that he couldn’t take care of her on his own. When he took her out in public, she would sometimes cause a scene, which would alert the police.
“It got more difficult just to take her out,” he said. “I finally had to admit: God, this is a little too much for me.”
He decided to do what’s best for her and sent Dani to a group home near Nashville, Tennessee, close to where Bernie lived. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Dianne lives in Carthage, about one hour from Dani.
It was a difficult decision to make, as Bernie reports. “Daddy can’t take care of you anymore,’ he told her while becoming emotional. ‘You’ll have to stay here. But I’ll come visit.”
Was it worth it?
Now, Bernie said, she has shown improvements and is more compliant. While she still can’t speak or write, “she responds to her name, she sometimes notices her roommates, she’s stopped screaming.”
Some people may think, “Was it worth it?” To this day, Dani seems unable to recognize the love she has been given. But to Bernie, it’s not about that.
“I’d still do it,” he told Tampa Bay Times. “It makes me so glad we could give her a home and a family to grow up in.”
Over the years he spent with her, Bernie ensured she was given all the attention she needed and that she never went hungry. She had a soft bed with Hello Kitty covers and a room with a window–everything that she should have been given when she was younger.
The biggest things I gave her were love and respect.Bernie Lierow in Tampa Bay Times
And despite all the tribulations, Bernie said he would still have taken her in. Despite the fact that she never developed into the young woman she was meant to be, he found comfort in the joys of raising her all these years.
“I had to look for all the good times, all the times she’s brought me so much joy,” Bernie said. “She’s like a 2-year-old in a 19-year-old body. She’ll always be my little girl.”
Bernie has been her only visitor. He tries to check in on Dani every month. After all the trials he went through, he still doesn’t feel like a hero.
I just did what I had to do. And I’m not the only one. So many other parents of disabled children sacrifice their lives.Bernie Lierow
Give love unconditionally
Bernie’s love for Dani is unconditional. It didn’t matter if she was ever going to get better, he gave her the love she should have been given since her birth. While many may see this sacrifice to be extreme, considering Dani’s condition, it’s also a reminder that we should not put conditions to the love we give, especially when it comes to children.
Everyone deserves to feel loved and appreciated, and be safe in that feeling. We can start by applying that in the way we extend our love to others.
More inspiring stories: