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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
US toddler's 'home alone' ordeal
Dakeysha Telita Lee
The mother said Briana was being cared for by neighbours
A two-year-old girl in Florida has survived nearly three weeks alone in her apartment, living on a diet of mustard, dried pasta and tomato sauce.

Briana Lee was abandoned when her mother was jailed on 10 September, but did not tell police about her daughter.

The girl's plight was only discovered when her father, after failing to make contact with his estranged wife for some time, went to the apartment.

She was found in a filthy state, lying naked in a baby's bath, watching TV.

Neighbourhood search

Briana's father, Ogden Lee, told the Florida Times-Union newspaper that he had been trying to get in touch with the mother Dakeysha Telita Lee, 20, for a fortnight - unaware that she was in fact in custody.

She grabbed me and wouldn't let go of me
Ogden Lee, Briana's father

Dakeysha Lee had been detained on charges of battery and theft earlier in the month.

When Mr Lee eventually traced the mother to the prison and was able to speak to her, Dakeysha Lee said that the child was in the care of neighbours.

Mr Lee went to the apartment block and after knocking on the doors of several neighbours was still unable to find Briana, so he got the building's manager to let him into the flat.

Indomitable spirit

The infant was lying naked in a baby bath tub in the mother's bedroom covered in dirt and dried ketchup, draped in a towel, watching cartoons on the television.

Dakeysha Telita Lee's apartment block
Neighbours reported hearing crying, but nothing suspicious

"She grabbed me and wouldn't let go of me," Mr Lee told the newspaper.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokesman Ken Jefferson said Briana had scavenged in the kitchen for food to survive, dragging it into the bedroom.

"She had subsisted on mustard, ketchup, dried pasta. She cleared out the lower cabinets looking for food as well as the refrigerator.

"She managed to stay alive for 19 days. She's quite a scrapper," Sheriff John Rutherford said.

Along with food, Briana had taken a supply of toys and other belongings to the bed.

"Everything was on the bed in the bedroom. Obviously she had found other things than the ketchup to eat," her father was quoted as saying.

Remarkably healthy

Police said there was no sign that the child had been visited by anyone else in the time.

She's sitting up in the bed and laughing and playing with the nurses
David Foremane, Wolfson Children's Hospital

Leaford James, a neighbour in the apartment block, said he had heard the girl crying during her time alone, "but nothing to get suspicious about".

Briana is now recovering from the effects of malnutrition and dehydration in Wolfson Children's Hospital.

"She's sitting up in the bed and laughing and playing with the nurses," hospital spokesman David Foreman said.

She remains in the care of social services, who are deciding where she should be placed.

"The child is safe and in our care," Pattie Mallon, an official from Jacksonville's Department of Children and Families said. "We are in awe of her spirit to survive and we are making every effort to ensure her safety and well being."

Briana's ability to survive has astonished her father too. "It really is a miracle how good a shape my daughter is in. I don't know how she did it," he said.

The mother has been charged with child abuse and detained on a $20,000 bail bond for failing to notify the authorities of her daughter's whereabouts.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
"Safely asleep and blissfully unaware of the storm around her"

'Home alone' mother guilty
11 Sep 03  |  London
US home alone mother jailed
13 Mar 03  |  Americas


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