Parents Face Murder Charge in Death of Girl With Severe Lice

The Four Percent

The 12-year-old girl had no bruises on her body. She was not malnourished, according to prosecutors. She had just eaten before her mother found her unconscious in late August in their home in rural Georgia.

But she had a lice infestation so severe that the doctors who treated her the day she died said it was enough to kill her, according to an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who described the finding in court last week.

The unusual conclusion that lice could have killed a child raised doubts among some doctors and scientists. But child welfare specialists said the details of the case underscored deep concerns about how the coronavirus pandemic has cut many children off from teachers, counselors and doctors who could report possible signs of neglect or abuse, especially as families struggle with the economic crisis.

The girl, Kaitlyn Yozviak, died on Aug. 26. Her cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest and the secondary cause as severe anemia, the result of repeated lice bites that lowered her blood iron levels, said Brent Cochran, senior assistant district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, which covers Ivey, the town of fewer than 1,000 people where Kaitlyn lived.

Kaitlyn’s family had a history with the department. Before Kaitlyn was born, Ms. Horton’s two sons were placed permanently with their maternal grandmother, Anna Horton.

The elder Ms. Horton said child services had found unsanitary living conditions at her daughter’s home.

Mr. Rawlings said the state became involved again two years later, when Kaitlyn was born. Hospital officials called the agency because Ms. Horton had decided not to give her up for adoption, as she had planned, and lacked items such as a car seat and formula.

The agency was also called in 2018 to investigate a report that Kaitlyn had been struck by a car. The report was unfounded, but social workers found the home filthy, with “cat urine everywhere,” Mr. Rawlings said.

Kaitlyn was placed with a relative for six days and the couple thoroughly cleaned the house, Mr. Rawlings said. Social workers followed up with the family’s doctor and a school counselor, who reported that they had never seen signs of chronic abuse and that Kaitlyn was doing well in school, he said. She returned home.

Kaitlyn’s family moved recently and she had switched schools just before the pandemic, Mr. Rawlings said.

He said that had schools not shut down, the child’s condition may have been noticed by a teacher or school employee who could have called state officials.

Anna Horton said she was trying to cope with the loss of a granddaughter she had hardly known and the arrest of her daughter, from whom she has been estranged for more than a decade.

She said she had held Kaitlyn once, when she was a baby, but had never seen her again. She said she wished her daughter would have called her for help.

“The shock was overwhelming,” she said. “I’ve lost two people in the space of a minute.”

Jack Begg contributed research.

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