Leaford James recalls hearing the TV blaring across the hall for days on end yet thought nothing of it. But when police discovered what was going on inside his neighbor's apartment in Jacksonville, Fla., James says, "I sat here all day and cried." For 19 days 2-year-old Breanna Lee had survived in that apartment all alone, drinking toilet water and living on ketchup, cookies and dried pasta she managed to pull off the bottom-pantry and refrigerator shelves. On Sept. 29 she was found dehydrated and malnourished, lying in a plastic bathtub. Where was her mother, Dakeysha Lee? Behind bars.
Which is where Lee, 22, who was charged with child abuse, could spend the next five years if convicted. Police say that after she was arrested and jailed Sept. 10 for allegedly stealing $200 from a nail salon and threatening the manager with a box cutter, she neglected to mention Breanna. Her estranged husband, Ogden Lee, 33, says Dakeysha told him the baby was with a neighbor. He didn't believe her and eventually convinced a building manager to open the door to the apartment, where he found Breanna—who had torn the labels off cans of corn, trying to open them—and called police. "She grabbed me," Ogden told The Florida Times-Union, "and wouldn't let go." In her defense, Dakeysha says she thought Ogden was caring for Breanna.
Dr. Jim Martin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says Breanna's survival skills could indicate she has fended for herself before, a possibility police are investigating. But he sees another factor at work—"God sure makes babies tough."
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