A Florida couple has been arrested in the starvation death of their 2-year-old daughter, who authorities said weighed as little as a 3-month-old baby — and whose skeletal appearance made officers “gasp at the horror.”
Regis Johnson, 57, and Arhonda Tillman, 35, were booked into the Polk County jail Wednesday on counts of child neglect with great bodily harm, but Sheriff Grady Judd said they were expected to face upgraded murder charges once the investigation is complete.
“Basically, it was bones and skin,” the sheriff said Thursday, referring to the toddler’s appearance. “It is unbelievable what we saw. You’d look at this child and you gasp at the horror you saw, and the pain this child went through.”
A visibly upset and angry Judd told reporters that Johnson and Tillman’s daughter weighed just over 9-pounds at the time of her death, after suffering what he described as long-term starvation.
The child was discovered lying motionless in a makeshift playpen made out of an inflatable swimming pool at the family’s home in Davenport Tuesday morning, after Johnson — whom Judd sarcastically dubbed “father of the year” — called 911 to report that his daughter was not breathing.
When interviewed by deputies, Tillman said she would have called for help sooner, but she and her husband “had been busy,” the sheriff told reporters.
Judd also said that there was food in the house, and both the father and the mother, who claimed to be four months pregnant, appeared to be well-nourished, tipping the scales at 213-pounds and 144-pounds, respectively.
“Regis Johnson told us the baby ate a sandwich yesterday, and some chicken nuggets,” Judd said. “Well, that’s just a bald-faced lie. that child had zero food in her stomach.”
According to the sheriff, the baby was delivered on July 25, 2019, weighing 6-pounds, 10-ounces at birth.
During the first six months of her life, the infant thrived, gaining three pounds, according to her medical records.
But Judd said that between January 2, 2020, when the child was last seen by a pediatrician, and the time of her death more than two years later, the girl gained just one ounce.
The doctor’s office said it had made numerous attempts to contact the parents because there was a concern their child had cystic fibrosis, reported ClickOrlando.com.
“The baby should have been 32 pounds,” Judd said. “The baby should have been talking, putting sentences together, asking questions…running, jumping and playing. When this baby died on May 10, she couldn’t stand, she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t walk.”
Judd, who has two young grandchildren of his own, said that the only thing that gives him solace in this case is the knowledge that the young victim is no longer starving.
He also said that if Tillman is, in fact, pregnant like she told cops she is, “she won’t get another chance to starve a child to death.”