An emaciated teenager, dead following months of alleged abuse and starvation by his mother and her boyfriend, will be buried today after a final, futile effort to reunite with his birth father.
Chester Lee Miller, 18, weighed no more than 100 pounds prior to his Sept. 25 death, when he sought help from a stranger in the Florida town where he believed his father lived.
The teen was hospitalized shortly after knocking on the door of 19-year-old Janice Goodman in Milton, Fla., about 20 miles north of Pensacola. Goodman told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America that she was shocked when she first saw the skinny teen.
"He looked like a holocaust victim. It was horrible," Goodman recalled. "He said that his parents had been real mean to him and he just wanted somewhere to stay and take a shower and that his dad lived somewhere around here."
Death Not Solely from Malnutrition
Goodman fed Miller before sending him to the hospital, where he died four days later. An autopsy concluded that the teen had died from infections caused when the wall of his stomach ruptured.
Andi Minyard, an associate medical examiner in Florida, says the rupture could have been caused by disease, a hard blow to the abdomen or ingestion of a toxic substance. He added that it wouldn't be caused solely by malnutrition, although the boy was not "nutritionally sound."
Doctors said that at 5 foot 4 inches tall, the teen should have weighed 140 to 150 pounds. Goodman says she believes Miller weighed less than 100 pounds, the weight recorded on his hospital chart.
Confined and Beaten
Miller's mother, Lyda Miller, 37, and her boyfriend, Paul Hoffman Sr., 38, were charged Sept. 24 with aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.
Prosecutors alleged Hoffman and the boy's mother confined him to a room for months, beat him every day, fed him scraps and didn't let him out of the house.
Hazleton Police Chief Edward Harry said investigators could upgrade the charges against Miller and Hoffman to homicide.
The Miller family lived in a multi-unit house in downtown Hazleton, a small city 80 miles north of Philadelphia. The teen joined the family after he moved from Florida to Pennsylvania last year.
He attended 10th grade in Hazleton, but his parents sent the school a letter in May saying he planned to move back to Florida and would not return in September, school officials said.
The teen told police that Miller had put him on a bus to Florida and told him to go look for his real dad.
Boyfriend Hit Miller ‘Now and Again’
In a Sept. 26 prison interview, the boy's mother blamed her boyfriend for her son's death.
"Paul did it, not me. I didn't kill him," she said. "The only thing I couldn't do is get him out of there, which I wish I would have."
Hoffman told authorities that he hit Miller "now and again," but denied confining him to the apartment. Hoffman said he asked the teen to leave because he had become violent.
Hoffman also repudiated an earlier story he had told the teen's mother about poisoning the teen with an overdose of the hyperactivity medication being taken by the youth. "Sometimes when you get in an argument, you say things you don't mean," Hoffman told wire services about his comments to Lyda Miller.
Both adults told The Associated Press the teen was taking the hyperactivity medication Adderall, whose side effects include loss of appetite and weight loss.
Meanwhile, a judge ordered the couple held on $500,000 bail. Two other children who had been in the couple's care were also turned over in good health to a state social service agency Tuesday, police said.
The Rev. Mike Poston, who will conduct Miller's funeral service in Florida today, says he's received so many offers of help from people who have been moved by Miller's story. "It's a tragedy and something that's horrible to have to happen, especially in our community," Poston said.