A woman from Rhode Island was arrested after her 9-year-old adopted daughter, a special needs wheelchair-bound child, died after being left alone in a bathtub for hours. Seven other children in the woman’s home were also found to be living in filthy conditions.
The 55-year-old woman, Michelle Rothgeb, was arrested on the morning of Jan. 13 at her Warwick home on one count of “cruelty to or neglect of a child.” According to NBC affiliate WJAR, when Rothgeb appeared in court the following day, a judge remarked that he was surprised she did not receive a homicide or a manslaughter charge.
Michele Rothgeb charged with neglect in death of 9 year old adopted girl her Warwick home. Court documents: @warwickripd say the girl with Cerebral Palsy was found by 15 year old crawling to tub. 15 yo helped her into tub. Girl was found unresponsive in empty tub 8 hours later. pic.twitter.com/vQr3GZtaLX
— Brian Crandall (@nbc10_brian) January 14, 2019
Police arrived at her home around 4.30 p.m on Jan. 3 and found the 9-year-old girl unresponsive in the bathtub. A boy had called 911. Police said the girl was pronounced dead a short time after she was brought to Kent Hospital.
Court documents said police had found the house in a deplorable condition, with soiled bedding, garbage all over the floors, and a pungent urine stench, WJAR reported. Police said the home was so cluttered that the girl’s wheelchair could not have been able to be used inside the house.
Warwick Police Maj. Mark Ullucci told NBC 10 News, “No one should be living in that type of environment, especially children.”
The other seven children were removed from the house the night the 9-year-old girl died. They were placed in the custody of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
According to WJAR, Rothgeb told police that her adopted son, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome, was tasked with looking after the seven other children because she was unwell. The boy told police that he had put his adopted sister in the bathtub with some inches of water to wash her, then went to care for the other children and prepare dinner.
Police said that Rothgeb said she had checked in on the girl at 1 p.m.
Court documents sighted by WJAR said police believe the girl may have been in the bathtub for between three and a half to eight hours.
Rothgeb’s bail has been set for $2,500.
DYCF wrote a statement to NBC saying that the department’s No. 1 priority is child safety.
“Our Department’s number one priority is child safety, and the loss of any child is a tragedy. DCYF does have a policy that promotes foster care and adoption of sibling groups, and we have standards in place to evaluate a person’s ability to care for children,” the statement read.
The director of Rhode Island’s Office of the Child Advocate and the DCYF, Trista Piccola, told WJAR that the last time the department contacted Rothgeb was in summer of 2018 when Rothgeb finalized her eighth adoption.
“Why we landed in the place that we did is unclear to me right now,” Piccola told NBC. “The conditions that these children were found living in are completely unacceptable.”
In January 2018, the department investigated Rothgeb’s residence for “lack of appropriate supervision.” But during the visit the department inspectors “weren’t allowed” up to the second floor, even though before adoptions were finalized they should “have access to the entirety of the home,” Piccola told NBC.
“A group of very well-intended, intelligent, caring people … seem to have made a series of unreasonable decisions, in my estimation,” Piccola said.
“The Warwick Police Detective Division, along with DCYF and the Attorney General’s Office, have conducted a very in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of this 9-year-old child. The result of this investigation has substantiated the charge listed above,” a statement by the Warwick Police Department read.
“This investigation is still ongoing. We will release additional information when appropriate.”