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Adoptive mom charged in paralyzed girl's death

A quadriplegic girl whose body was found in a storage unit had suffered from "severe, ongoing malnutrition and neglect," a prosecutor said Friday after charging her mother with murder.
Body in Storage
Lorrie Thomas, the adoptive mother of a 9-year-old quadriplegic girl found dead in a storage unit, cries during a court hearing Friday.Carlos Osorio / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A 9-year-old quadriplegic girl whose body was found in a storage unit suffered from "severe, ongoing malnutrition and neglect," a prosecutor said Friday after charging her adoptive mother with murder.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton charged 39-year-old Lorrie Thomas of Flint with six crimes, including second-degree murder, child abuse, tampering with evidence, removing a dead body and welfare fraud over $500.

Shylea Myza Thomas weighed 33 pounds at her death — about half her weight of 61 pounds in August 2007, Leyton said at a news conference. The girl had untreated bed sores and bones sticking through skin, he said.

"Nobody should die like this. ... The child suffered — there's no question about it. It's heart-wrenching to every one of us," he said.

Investigators believe Shylea died about six weeks ago, around the time the storage unit was rented, Leyton said. He said she was supposed to be fed special, prescription food through a tube attached to her stomach. Thomas is accused of cashing a check April 13 that included a monthly stipend for the girl of $2,884.

Thomas has been in custody since Wednesday, when investigators found the girl's body in the storage unit near Flint, 65 miles northwest of Detroit. The body was in a black trash bag and stuffed into a plastic bin with mothballs to cover up the smell.

Thomas, dressed in orange jail clothes, cried Friday at her arraignment in District Court in Flint. Judge Tracy Collier-Nix ordered her held without bond and set her next court appearance for Tuesday. She was to get a court-appointed lawyer.

If convicted of the murder charge, Thomas could face life in prison.

Some friends and family in the courtroom wore shirts bearing photos of the girl. Some relatives spelled her name "Shylae," though authorities and some records list it as "Shylea."

'Not a bad person'
A cousin of Thomas', Josette Thomas, said she's "not a bad person, at all. Something happened. She panicked and made a mistake."

Eight children were living in Thomas' home in a depressed Flint neighborhood, including her 15-year-old daughter and the teen's own two children. The children — one as young as 3 months — were placed in the care of the state Department of Human Services.

Thomas was Shylea's aunt, as well as her adoptive mother. Authorities had no information on the whereabouts of Shylea's biological mother.

Shylea had been taken out of school in January, and at least one neighbor said she hadn't even been aware the little girl lived there.

The case unfolded this week when relatives of the girl told the state Department of Human Services about possible neglect and said they hadn't seen the child in six weeks.

A caseworker, Aaron Clum, visited the home Monday and was unable to confirm Shylea's whereabouts, according to a court document filed in the family division of the Genesee County Circuit Court. Clum said Thomas told him the family was moving to Virginia and the girl was on her way with a friend.

On Tuesday, the department asked Flint police to investigate. Thomas again insisted Shylea was bound for Virginia, Clum wrote, but that could not be confirmed.

Shylea's body was found early Wednesday morning hidden in a unit at Stor & Lock in Vienna Township.

Shylea had been paralyzed since nearly suffocating in her crib when she was 3 months old, Leyton said. She lived with several relatives in a Flint home that the prosecutor described as "absolutely filthy."