The mystery behind “the girl in the window” started in 2005 when police raided a home in Plant City, Florida, and found a barely 7-year-old girl hidden away in a dark room. Her mother, her mother's boyfriend, and her two adult brothers lived in the house but kept her secluded. The authorities found Danielle Crockett’s living conditions horrific and immediately contacted child abuse investigators. Excrement lined the walls, cockroaches scurried across the floors, and old, used diapers surrounded the girl.
Similar to other feral children who have experienced severe neglect and been denied any kind of social interaction, Dani suffered from a variety of psychological conditions that made recovery incredibly difficult. Even after years of treatment and care, doctors and specialists were unsure of what her prognosis might be in the future.
Several journalists from the Tampa Bay Times played an integral part in bringing Dani's story to the public’s attention and continued to follow Dani’s recovery even a decade after her rescue. Dani’s birth mother, Michelle Crockett, gave up her parental rights in exchange for a lesser sentence, which allowed the Lierow family to legally adopt Dani in 2007.
When officer Mark Holste first found Danielle, he discovered her family was keeping her in a tiny, unlit room in the back of a worn-down house. At almost 7 years old, she weighed just 46 pounds and had only an old moldy mattress to sleep on. Holste saw that the young girl was completely naked except for a diaper that had obviously not been changed in some time. Her lack of clothing and poor hygiene revealed the extent of her neglect, as well as the ribs and collar bones sticking out from beneath her skin.
Danielle was severely malnourished and covered in insect bites and infections. In a near-comatose condition, the police suspected she had never received any kind of medical treatment and would need immediate care to survive. Plant City police and the Florida Department of Children and Families officers rushed her to the nearest hospital, despite her mother's protests.
Danielle’s living conditions were unprecedented. Plant City detectives reportedly found the first child abuse investigator on the scene crying uncontrollably in her car. When police finally arrived, the first officer through the door had to leave after seconds to vomit, due to the sheer stench inside the home. Detective Holste relayed the severity of the situation:
I’ve been in rooms with bodies rotting there for a week and it never stunk that bad. […] There’s just no way to describe it. Urine and feces - dog, cat, and human excrement - smeared on the walls, mashed into the carpet. Everything dank and rotting.
According to those who were present during the discovery in 2005, filth covered the interior of the home, including the walls and floors. Thousands of cockroaches swarmed every room as well as the walls, cupboards, and kitchen appliances.
Used diapers and broken glass surrounded Danielle’s urine-covered mattress. Holste located Danielle curled up in the corner of the dark room. Only maggot-infested clothes and toys were in the room. Michelle Crockett, Danielle’s mother, also lived in the residence with her two adult sons and her boyfriend.
By the time doctors treated Danielle and brought her back to nearly full health, they tested her for mental and physical conditions that might explain her severe disabilities. It was clear she could not communicate properly and had no social skills. Doctors quickly ruled out conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy, even though she showed no emotions and had no reactions to external stimuli.
Danielle didn’t make eye contact and couldn’t eat solid food. She also couldn’t talk or walk correctly. The general consensus among medical professionals was that Danielle had simply not developed the same skills as children raised in healthy home environments. Lack of access to other children, education, and substantial interactions with the rest of the people living in the house had stunted Danielle’s development.
As far as anyone in the neighborhood knew, Danielle didn’t exist. She lived in the house with her mother and two brothers for three years before anyone even caught a glimpse of her. Then, when she was 5 years old, a resident noticed the youngster peek out of the window between the broken pieces of glass. Because of the darkness of the room, it was hard for any passers-by to get a good look at her.
When someone reported suspicions of child endangerment two years later, Plant City police and the Florida Department of Children and Families began investigating the situation.