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Abused Girl, 11, Rescued From Squalor No Record She Ever Attended School; Mom, Man Charged

Sun., Dec. 14, 1997, midnight

Neighbors never saw the girl. And in all of her 11 years she apparently never went to school.

But somebody finally heard her cries for help.

On Friday morning, an anonymous 911 call led city police to the child, who lay crying and bleeding on a dingy bed in an abandoned Harlem brownstone.

The girl’s mother, Betty Chappell, and her boyfriend, Ronald Sheffield, both 45, were charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

Police were called to the dilapidated, four-story building Friday morning. The apartment had no heat, electricity or hot water. Investigators said the girl was covered with dirt, oozing sores and bleeding. It’s also possible she was sexually abused, police said.

The girl was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital and placed in the custody of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.

She was listed in stable condition.

Neighbors say the building where the child was found is a haven for drug addicts.

“I saw plenty going on in that house, but I never saw a little girl there,” said Ethel Smith, who has lived in the neighborhood 25 years. “I don’t think anybody ever knew she was in there.”

Child welfare authorities reportedly investigated the child’s mother a decade ago but determined that abuse allegations were unfounded.

The Board of Education said it could find no record of the little girl having ever attended school, although she could have been registered under a different name, according to published reports.

In the wake of other highly publicized child abuse deaths, a new system gives caseworkers access to computerized, day-to-day school attendance records to supplement their investigations.

“ACS’s mission is solely to protect children,” ACS Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said in a statement. “This is a child that the system never had an opportunity to help.”

Agency spokeswoman Maggie Lear said that it was nearly impossible for the agency - which handles 50,000 cases a year - to have known of the girl’s plight without her being in school.

“This is one of those examples of how we rely on the diligence of neighbors, families and friends to let us know that a child who is not going to school is in need,” she said.

City officials could not immediately say who owned the building in Harlem.

And police spokesman Walter Burnes said there were no immediate records of drug arrests or raids there.


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