The last time Bill and Sabrina Kavanaugh saw Lauren Ashley Calhoun, she was celebrating her second birthday, an energetic, healthy child who loved the outdoors and movies.
That image, the bittersweet memory of a couple who'd fought to adopt Lauren, was in sharp contrast to the starving girl law officers found in a trailer in Hutchins, about 20 miles south of Dallas.
Lauren was rescued Monday from a filthy, lice-infested closet where authorities say she'd spent four months locked away from her mother, stepfather and five siblings. She weighed only 25 pounds, her stomach was bloated due to malnutrition and her eyes were sunken in.
The girl's mother, Barbara Catherine Atkinson, 30, and stepfather, Kenneth Ray Atkinson, 33, were charged Tuesday with injury to a child and were being held in the Dallas County Jail.
Police said Barbara Atkinson told others that Lauren had an eating disorder and was staying with a baby sitter.
Judge Returned Lauren to Birth Mother
The Kavanaughs, who live near Canton in northeast Texas, said they had arranged for a private adoption upon the delivery of Atkinson's baby and took custody of Lauren at birth on April 13, 1993.
The couple had met Atkinson through a relative. A couple of months after the birth, Atkinson changed her mind. She demanded Lauren back.
"She had many, many opportunities before, even after, the baby was born," Bill Kavanaugh, 62, said Wednesday.
Kavanaugh said the couple retained exclusive rights to Lauren for about nine months, but the courts limited their visits thereafter. After eight months of judicial struggles, a second judge ordered Lauren returned to her birth mother.
"The attorney we used messed up, and we did not obtain paternal rights," Kavanaugh said. "We fought her in court and lost. We lost on a technicality."
The Kavanaughs saw Lauren infrequently before Atkinson stopped returning their calls. She moved and her phone was disconnected.
"We had seen her on her second birthday and that was when we lost her," Kavanaugh said.
Closet Littered With Human Waste, Soiled Clothing
Police said Lauren spent much of her time in a 4-by-8-foot closet littered with human waste and soiled clothing. She is a foot smaller than a child her age and court documents — seeking to remove the other children from Atkinson's home — stated that she has a 3-year-old's communication skills.
Lauren was in serious but stable condition early today at Children's Medical Center of Dallas after undergoing surgery. The five other children — ages 22 months to 11 years — were placed in temporary foster care. Police said they did not appear to be malnourished.
A court hearing on the children's custody is scheduled for June 26.
Hutchins Assistant Police Chief Dave Landers said Lauren's mother and stepfather had expressed remorse during interviews.
"At times, they were upset, and they knew what they did was wrong," Landers said.
Dr. Janet Squires, a specialist in abuse cases at Children's Medical Center, said children abused during their first three years often face irreversible cognitive damage and below-average intelligence.
"These kids are probably never going to be as functional and bright as they could have been," Squires said.
Bill Kavanaugh says the couple would welcome the chance to be with Lauren again.
"She was a great little baby," Kavanaugh said, looking down to avoid crying. "I would love to pick her up right now."