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NEW DELHI — A toddler whose body was recently found in a drain in suburban Dallas was cheerful, healthy and eating well a year ago when she met her new parents, according to the manager of the Indian orphanage from where Sherin Mathews was adopted.
Babita Kumari said she wants to know what happened to the 3-year-old girl, whose father has been jailed after telling police that Sherin had choked to death while drinking milk in the middle of the night. Wesley Mathews has told police Sherin needed a special diet involving meals at odd hours because she was malnourished.
Those claims puzzle Kumari, who managed the Mother Teresa Orphanage and Children’s Home in the city of Nalanda in eastern India’s Bihar state, where the girl had lived since infancy.
“Look at the photos of the child. Does she look malnourished?” Kumari said during a Thursday evening phone interview with The Associated Press.
“I have so many questions about what happened to her,” Kumari said.
The girl, then named Saraswati, after the Hindu goddess of wisdom, was a happy, cheerful child who made everyone smile at the orphanage.
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“We loved her laughter,” Kumari said. “She was a smart child.”
Wesley Mathews reported his daughter missing Oct. 7, and Sherin’s body was found by cadaver dogs in a culvert under a road in Richardson, Texas, on Sunday. Mathews has been charged with felony injury of a child in Sherin’s death and is being held on $1 million bond.
A cause of death hasn’t been determined and autopsy results haven’t been released.
Mathews told police his daughter had developmental disabilities and was malnourished. He described a special diet regimen in which she had to eat whenever she was awake in order to gain weight.
According to an arrest affidavit filed by Richardson police, Mathews said he had been trying to get the girl to drink milk in the garage of their home.
“Eventually the 3-year-old girl began to drink the milk. Wesley Mathews then physically assisted the 3-year-old girl in drinking the milk,” according to the affidavit.
Mathews told police that Sherin choked and coughed and eventually he felt no pulse and believed the child had died. Investigators wrote that he “then admitted to removing the body from the home.”
The affidavit does not say whether Mathews administered any medical aid to his daughter.
The child was already eating solid food and drinking milk from a cup when she left the orphanage, Kumari remembers. She said Sherin squinted in one eye, but otherwise had nothing wrong with her when Mathews and his wife Sini Mathews adopted her in June 2016.
“Why did they have to make her eat or drink anything at that hour? Why was he forcing her?” Kumari asked. “If someone is forcing a drink into the mouth of someone who is crying and sobbing, then even an adult can choke.”
India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted Friday that she has asked the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which oversees adoptions, to thoroughly investigate the adoption process of Sherin Mathews.
Swaraj said passports for children adopted from India will now only be issued with the ministry’s approval.
Sherin was sent to the orphanage in Nalanda by child welfare authorities when she was only a few months old. It has since shut down. Kumari said that was due to missing paperwork and that the orphanage plans to challenge the shutdown.