Cops: Girl Scared to Go Home to Dad's Meth Lab

TACOMA, Wash., April 27, 2005 -- -- When a 6-year-old girl told a school counselor she was afraid to go home, administrators at Blix Elementary School called in the police to find out why.

Authorities say they discovered an apparent methamphetamine lab in the small apartment where the kindergartener lived with her father and two other adults.

"She contacted the school counselor yesterday, saying she was afraid to go home, afraid of all her father's roommates and the fact that she thought they were cooking meth in the apartment where the lived," said Mark Fulghum, a spokesman with the Tacoma Police Department.

Once police confirmed the girl seemed to know what she was talking about, they called the girl's father and he came to the school to meet with them, Fulghum said. During that interview, the man gave police permission to search the apartment, he said.

The toxic brew of solvents, metals, acids and corrosive gases that was allegedly found in the apartment, which police say was the makings of a meth lab, has the city Health Department concerned about how much of the fumes might have drifted into the girl's room.

"If the heating system is recirculating the contamination and you're a kid sitting right next to there, they're potentially exposed at a lot higher dose," said Shawn Madison, a spokesman with Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Public Health.

The boom in small meth labs being operated in homes, apartments and motel rooms across the country has recently raised increased concerns about the dangers to children.

State officials in Kentucky say there could be as many as 30,000 children at risk from the fumes of meth labs in that state alone.

In Montana, Idaho, Colorado and Washington, state officials say as many as 25 percent of the youngsters entering the care of protective services were children of meth users, and many of them needed treatment for the physical effects of the drug.

The fumes from methamphetamine production can cause developmental problems and brain damage, and high enough concentrations can be fatal.

"I think it's terrible that a child should have to go through that," said Paul Erwin, a neighbor of the little girl.

The health department has sealed off the apartment, but officials are also worried about the rest of the building, because the fumes from the alleged meth lab could have been carried throughout the building by the heating system.

There are 15 units, and all could be contaminated, Madison said.

"We'll secure it and if we see anything that even slightly suspects endangering other people, we'll shut the whole building down," Madison said.

Neighbors said there were a lot of people going in and out of the apartment, but because the girl's father was the building manager they didn't question what he was doing.

"It's sad when a 5-year-old is the one to put a stop to things," said Wynne Carluk, the former manager of the apartment building.

"She knew a lot of things weren't right just because the way she was being treated and the way things were going on," said Fulghum. "It's unfortunate that someone at 6 years of age has enough knowledge to be able to talk about it the way she did."

Police declined to identify the suspect, saying only that he is in his early 40s and has had sole custody of his daughter, though her mother has been trying to win custody of the girl.

In the meantime, the girl has been placed in protective custody, police said.

Formal charges will not be filed against the girl's father or the other adults who lived in the apartment, police said, until after an analysis of the chemicals and substances found in the apartment.

ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV in Seattle contributed to this report.