DA: Girl Found Locked in Closet Had Been Held in Confined Spaces for Years

The young Texas girl recently found locked in a closet was kept confined in the space for four years, a district attorney testified Tuesday during her custody hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Munden said 8-year-old Lauren Calhoun was kept in a "closet, attic or small room" since 1997. Authorities had previously thought she was locked in the space for four months.

Munden said Lauren's five siblings were told to lie about her home in Hutchins, south of Dallas. Lauren is hospitalized at Children's Medical Center in Dallas.  

Lauren's mother, Barbara Atkinson, and stepfather, Kenneth Ray Atkinson, were arrested on charges of injury to a child, a felony that carries a prison term from five to 99 years. Both remain at the Dallas County Jail.

Police also are investigating evidence that the girl was sexually abused.

Authorities said Lauren was imprisoned in a urine- and feces-contaminated closet in the Atkinson home. She weighed only 25 pounds and was covered in her own waste when she was rescued June 11. She told police she was 2 years old.

Bill and Sabrina Kavanaugh, who tried to adopt Lauren when she was born, asked for a home study from Child Protective Services as part of their attempts to seek custody of her. They had lost custody when Ms. Atkinson changed her mind and wanted the baby back.

Several dozen relatives of the Kavanaughs attended the hearing. Most wore buttons with a photo of a chubby-cheeked Lauren smiling on her first birthday.

The Kavanaughs have been undergoing psychological evaluations and other tests. If approved for temporary custody, they'll attend classes that teach foster parents how to deal with mentally challenged children.

Ms. Atkinson's attorney said last week that her client will voluntarily give up her parental rights to Lauren in favor of the Kavanaughs, if approved by Shannon and CPS.

CPS spokeswoman Stacey Ladd said Lauren's birth father would have to be located and terminate his parental rights before adoption proceedings could be completed.

Atkinson attended the hearing, wearing white jail overalls. He answered a few questions, saying little and asserting his Fifth Amendment rights. He was returned to jail shortly afterward.

Also at the hearing, various grandparents requested the right to visit the siblings. In addition, Billy Bowers, 38, said he is the biological father of Ms. Atkinson's 5-year-old daughter and is requesting visitation rights to see that child.

"I'm worried about her. I don't know what happened to her," Bowers said. He has not seen the girl in a year.

Ms. Atkinson gave her baby up for adoption after giving birth to her eight years ago because she had no job and no home.

An attorney who interviewed Ms. Atkinson in 1993 as part of the attempt to regain custody of Lauren recommended that the girl remain with the Kavanaughs because she would receive better opportunities than her birth mother could provide, The Dallas Morning News reported on June17.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.