Starving 4-Year-Old Boy Rescued From N.J. Apartment Ate Sugar to Survive

"He's just a really sweet kid," said Officer Sylvia Dimenna

ByABC News
March 28, 2013, 11:59 AM

March 28, 2013— -- An officer who helped to rescue a 4-year-old boy trapped inside a Union, N.J., apartment with his dead mother's body said the child was "so bright and resilient" despite the horrible conditions and ordeal he suffered.

"He's just a really sweet kid," said Township of Union Police Officer Sylvia Dimenna, who stayed with boy while he was treated for malnutrition and dehydration to Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J.

"He knew his mom was sick and he said he tried to help her," she said. "I don't think he really understood the gravity of the situation, and because it was such a trauma for him, it wasn't a good idea to really try to explain the finality to him."

"A couple of times he said, 'I missed my mom,'" said Dimmena, who is studying for a master's degree in counseling and psychotherapy at the Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, N.Y.

Officers found the child locked inside an overheated apartment. Dimenna said he was too weak to unhook the chain lock inside the door to escape and was eating sugar out of a bag to stay alive.

The child weighed 26 pounds when rescue workers found him, said Dimmena. She said the boy may have been trapped for at least three days with his mother's body decomposing inside.

Police Director Daniel Zieser told that officers went to the apartment around 11:30 a.m. Monday morning when they got a call about a terrible smell coming from the unit.

When police arrived on the scene, they used a master key from the complex's maintenance workers to open the door. Officers were able unlock the door, but could not enter the apartment because it was chain locked from the inside.

But they were able to prop the door open a few inches to see a thin little boy standing by the doorway, naked, except for one sneaker on the wrong foot. Zieser said the boy was told to stand back so officers could kick down the door to break the chain.

The boy's mother, who was identified as Kiana Workman, 38, was found dead on the floor next to her bed in the single bedroom of the apartment, said Zieser. Authorities believe Workman was a single mother.

Zieser said the apartment was a mess.

"There was a lot of stuff strewn about, it was dirty," he said.

At the hospital, Dimenna said she and the 4-year-old watched Mickey Mouse videos together while he ate and drank.

"He was very tired obviously," she said. "But he was very bright and articulate."

The boy is in the custody of Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), New Jersey's child protection agency, she said.

Dimenna said she spoke with the social worker yesterday, who said the boy was doing well and that he was in foster care.

"They put him with someone who really can address his issues at this point," she said.

Investigators believe Workman died of natural causes. Zieser said her autopsy was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but "due to the [body's] state of decomposition, they had to postpone it."

Workman had been staying in her mother's apartment with her son for at least two weeks, said neighbor Linda King.

Workman, who was from Brooklyn, N.Y., often stayed at the apartment, said King, who has lived to the right of Workman's mother, Shirley Valentine, for over 10 years. Valentine was "not really mobile," said King, and Workman often came to house sit and pay her mother's rent.

King said that when Workman came to stay at her mother's apartment, she spent most of her time inside.

"She was quiet," King said.

Zieser said Valentine has been in living in a nursing home after suffering a fractured hip in February.

"She's physically not capable of caring for the child," he said.

Zieser said relatives of the boy and his mother have been contacted, but DYFS is in charge of making custody decisions for the child.

ABC News' calls to Valentine for comment were not immediately returned.