In the months leading up to her death, 5-year-old Lauren McConniel was treated twice at Ball Memorial Hospital, once at Southway Urgent Care Center, once at St. Vincent Randolph Hospital in Winchester and three times at Merdian Services, a behavioral health care provider.
Despite staff seeing broken fingers, malnutrition, a head injury, weight loss, unusual vaginal appearance and bizarre behavior, only one of these professional caregivers called Child Protective Services (CPS)
, which was just a 1-800 telephone call away, police say.
Karen Royer -- a counselor at Meridian who reported that in all of her years of dealing with kids she had never heard of such bizarre behavior, and who believed the girl was being seriously sexually abused
-- did contact CPS. Lauren looked exhausted, frail and fragile to Royer.
But that was on March 1, and the target of the sexual abuse allegation was not the girl's father, Ryan, or stepmother, Brittany, who had custody of Lauren. The target was Amber Huggins, the girl's natural mother
who was living in Knoxville, Tenn. Huggins had last seen her daughter seven months earlier, when Lauren was in good health, and Huggins had been desperately searching for her.
By March 3, Lauren was hospitalized at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where she developed seizures, respiratory failure and shock. She died there six days later.
"Child Protective Services was contacted by Karen Royer over allegations of sexual abuse that Ryan and Brittany made about the natural mother," said Muncie police Sgt. Jimmy Gibson. "The trouble is, Karen Royer believed Ryan and Brittany. They were believable.
But I don't suspect the natural mom at all. The natural mom hadn't had contact with the child since August, and here this (allegation) was coming up in February and March. When the natural mom had custody of her, her weight was normal and the pictures showed she was healthy and happy.
And those weren't the only lies the McConniels told to caregivers
, Gibson said. They also claimed that Lauren was being treated for malnutrition by a Winchester physician, who had never even seen her once.
Also, at Southway Urgent Care on Feb. 4, the McConniels presented themselves as rescuers of the child, claiming they had just recently obtained custody of the girl. "When questioned about the girl's weight, they acted concerned and blamed the natural mom," Gibson said. "And they were convincing."
Under Indiana law, anyone
who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect is required to report it.
Police have not closed their investigation of the hospital's and Southway's failure to report the McConniels to CPS.
Failing to report is a misdemeanor, Gibson said.
"Any red flag could be reported to us," said Ann Houseworth, a spokesman for the department of child services. "We would rather assess a situation that was not a case of abuse and neglect than not assess a situation and find that the child was placed in more harm."
Police also haven't closed their investigation into other family members
for failure to report.
Lauren's stepgrandparents Robert and Angie Lee and her stepaunt Samra Lee shared a house at 2304 S. Ebright St. with the McConniels, Lauren and Lauren's older sister.
"There are a whole lot more family members (than the McConniels) who could be held accountable," Gibson said. "But how far do we go? Do we arrest everybody? We're behind on other cases and under-staffed."