Closet Girl's Former Parents Shocked

ByTrey Ditto

C A N T O N, Texas, June 14, 2001 -- The last time Bill and Sabrina Kavanaughsaw 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 toadopt Lauren, was in sharp contrast to the starving girl lawofficers found in a trailer in Hutchins, about 20 miles south ofDallas.

Lauren was rescued Monday from a filthy, lice-infested closetwhere authorities say she'd spent four months locked away from hermother, stepfather and five siblings. She weighed only 25 pounds,her stomach was bloated due to malnutrition and her eyes weresunken in.

The girl's mother, Barbara Catherine Atkinson, 30, andstepfather, Kenneth Ray Atkinson, 33, were charged Tuesday withinjury to a child and were being held in the Dallas County Jail.

Police said Barbara Atkinson told others that Lauren had aneating disorder and was staying with a baby sitter.

Judge Returned Lauren to Birth Mother

The Kavanaughs, who live near Canton in northeast Texas, saidthey had arranged for a private adoption upon the delivery ofAtkinson's baby and took custody of Lauren at birth on April 13,1993.

The couple had met Atkinson through a relative. A couple ofmonths after the birth, Atkinson changed her mind. She demandedLauren back.

"She had many, many opportunities before, even after, the babywas born," Bill Kavanaugh, 62, said Wednesday.

Kavanaugh said the couple retained exclusive rights to Laurenfor about nine months, but the courts limited their visitsthereafter. After eight months of judicial struggles, a secondjudge ordered Lauren returned to her birth mother.

"The attorney we used messed up, and we did not obtain paternalrights," Kavanaugh said. "We fought her in court and lost. Welost on a technicality."

The Kavanaughs saw Lauren infrequently before Atkinson stoppedreturning their calls. She moved and her phone was disconnected.

"We had seen her on her second birthday and that was when welost her," Kavanaugh said.

Closet Littered With Human Waste, Soiled Clothing

Police said Lauren spent much of her time in a 4-by-8-footcloset littered with human waste and soiled clothing. She is a footsmaller than a child her age and court documents — seeking toremove the other children from Atkinson's home — stated that shehas a 3-year-old's communication skills.

Lauren was in serious but stable condition early today atChildren's Medical Center of Dallas after undergoing surgery. Thefive other children — ages 22 months to 11 years — were placed intemporary foster care. Police said they did not appear to bemalnourished.

A court hearing on the children's custody is scheduled for June26.

Hutchins Assistant Police Chief Dave Landers said Lauren'smother and stepfather had expressed remorse during interviews.

"At times, they were upset, and they knew what they did waswrong," Landers said.

Dr. Janet Squires, a specialist in abuse cases at Children'sMedical Center, said children abused during their first three yearsoften face irreversible cognitive damage and below-averageintelligence.

"These kids are probably never going to be as functional andbright as they could have been," Squires said.

Bill Kavanaugh says the couple would welcome the chance to bewith Lauren again.

"She was a great little baby," Kavanaugh said, looking down toavoid crying. "I would love to pick her up right now."

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