Danielle Crockett, Dani, was rescued on July 13, 2005, after detective Mark Holste responded to a report of child abuse. Someone had seen Dani’s face in a broken window and called police.
When officers arrived at the rundown home – rooms filled with urine, feces, cockroaches – they located six-year-old Dani in a dark room the size of a closet.
She was wearing a swollen diaper with feces dribbling down her legs. Her skeletal form was curled up on a mattress that was moldy. She was covered in maggots, lice, and flies.
Speaking to Tampa Bay Times, Holste said that it was “the worst neglect situation I’ve ever seen.”
Dani was only 46 pounds at the time, and couldn’t walk, talk, or eat food.
Dr. Kathleen Armstrong, the director of pediatric psychology at the University of South Florida medical school, stated that Dani was environmentally autistic because of her major lack of human interaction.
Michelle Crockett, Dani’s mother, was arrested. As part of a plea deal in 2005, she waived her parental rights and was sentenced to two years of house arrest and probation. She didn’t serve any jail term.
Foster care employees described Dani as a feral child because she’d never gone to school, eaten solid foods, or been out in the sun.
Dani was finally adopted in October 2007 by Bernie and Diane Lierow.
“She just looked like she needed us,” Bernie said.
They potty trained Dani, took her to the beach, horseback riding therapy, occupational therapy, church, several doctors and taught her to swim. She was enrolled in public school, in special education classes, and attended private speech therapy sessions five days a week.
The couple told DailyMail.com in 2011 that “she can go to the cupboard, get a glass and get herself a drink of water. And she’s much more open; she will look at people now, and sometimes she will go to people she doesn’t know that well.”
When the family moved to Tennessee shortly after, they lived on a farm where Bernie rehabbed horses and raised goats.
Bernie described Dani’s behavior: “She’d eat her toothbrush. Eat her hairbrush. They wanted me to teach her sign language, but I gave up on that. She’d never sign back.”
Bernie tried his best to keep Dani from harming herself or from destroying the house: “I told myself, this is the way it is. We adopted her. I’ll never give up on my baby. But after about three years, Diane was done. She figured Dani had gone about as far as she was going to get.”
Bernie and Diane divorced in 2015 after 18 years of marriage.
Bernie didn’t blame Dani, but explained that there was a lot of stress and never any time for them to be alone as a couple.
He said: “When I got Dani with just me, she really relaxed. But I couldn’t work at all during summers. And then there were those times with the cops.”
Dani’s behavior in public sparked two incidents where cops were called.
“It got more difficult just to take her out,” Bernie said. “I finally had to admit: God, this is a little too much for me.”
Dani became eligible for Social Security and Medicaid when she turned 18 last year.
About a year ago, a state employee called Bernie about a bed that had opened for a girl in a small group home 40 minutes from Nashville. Dani moved into the home with bags full of clothes and toys just after Christmas.
Daddy can’t take care of you anymore. You’ll have to stay here. But I’ll come visit,” he told her.
He’s visited her at the home several times, including when she turned 19.
Bernie stated that if he had to do it all over again, he would still take Dani in and raise her.
“I’d still do it. It makes me so glad we could give her a home and a family to grow up in. The biggest things I gave her were love and respect,” he said.