Prosecutors on Thursday were deciding whether the adoptive mother of a 9-year-old quadriplegic girl whose body was found in a storage unit should be charged in the case.
Charges could range from felony murder to lesser charges such as misdemeanor moving a corpse. The woman was arrested Wednesday after police found Shylea Myza Thomas' body in a black trash bag, stuffed into a plastic bin with mothballs and locked in a storage unit near Flint.
Shylea had been taken out of school in January, and relatives told state officials they had not seen her in six weeks. At least one neighbor said she hadn't even been aware the little girl lived there.
"This is a very sad and tragic case that hurts all of us involved in the ongoing investigation," Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said in a statement. "It appears that Shylea had a rough go in life."
Officials did not release the adoptive mother's name because no charges have been filed, but they said she was a blood relative of Shylea's who adopted her through the state. Authorities were reviewing evidence and results from an autopsy before deciding on charges, prosecutor John Potbury said.
"As we debate among ourselves the various legal issues at play, we've developed some questions that need to be answered before we make a decision. I'm hopeful some sort of decision will be made Friday," Potbury said.
Living in 'filthy' conditions
Prosecutors said relatives of the girl told workers with the state Human Services department on Tuesday that Shylea had not been seen in six weeks. Officials notified police, who learned late Tuesday or early Wednesday that the girl was dead and her body hidden in a unit at Stor & Lock in Vienna Township, about 65 miles northwest of Detroit.
Police originally were given misinformation about Shylea after arriving at the home, Potbury said. He didn't elaborate.
Shylea's family told authorities she had been paralyzed since nearly suffocating in her crib as an infant, Potbury said. She lived with several relatives in a Flint home that Leyton described as "absolutely filthy."
Shylea's home sits on a tough street with a number of abandoned and boarded-up houses. On Thursday, two children's bicycles lined on the front porch of the two-story home, where no one answered the door.
"For her to have to live like that, and then to die and be stuffed into a bag and plastic bin in a storage facility just breaks my heart," Leyton said.
The girl's family moved into the house around Thanksgiving, said Sabrina Williams, who lives across the street. The lawn had two bowling balls.
She had seen children playing outside, but not Shylea. She said she had seen deliveries of what she believed were medical supplies but added, "I thought she was taking care of an older person."
Williams, 43, said she has been losing sleep since learning about the girl's death and watching the arrest of the adoptive mother. She said the woman "could have gotten some help if she couldn't do it on her own."
'Educational community is shocked'
The Department of Human Services said it could not comment on whether the girl and adoptive mother were involved with the child welfare system, citing confidentiality rules. But the state does the same background checks, home studies and house visits with would-be adoptive parents who are related to a child as it would of prospective parents who are not related to the child, said Stacie Bowens, director of the department's child welfare bureau in Genesee County.
The state Office of Children's Ombudsman said Thursday it will open an investigation into the death. The agency investigates complaints involving children who are involved with Michigan's child welfare system for reasons of abuse or neglect, and checks to see if public or private agencies followed laws and policies.
Thomas Svitkovich, superintendent of Genesee Intermediate School District, said the girl had been a student at a special education school in the county but was withdrawn by her family Jan. 22. He said he couldn't give any information on why she was taken out.
"The educational community is shocked. We have not ever experienced anything like this," Svitkovich said.