WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — An almost 3-year-old is dead after being apparently starved to death by her parents, according to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
In a Thursday morning news conference, Judd told reporters of how a little girl who was born at a healthy 6 pounds, 10 ounces in 2019 died at only 9.5 pounds in 2022.
The child was born in July 2019 and ultimately died on May 10 of this year, Judd said. She should've been 32 pounds. Since a January 2020 doctor's appointment to her death, she only gained 1 ounce — she couldn't stand, talk or walk, the sheriff continued.
"This baby, this baby girl, this child that should’ve been thriving gained 1 ounce in two years and four months,” Judd said. "If you could imagine looking at such a heartbreaking sight, basically it was just bones and skin”
Investigators say the father of the child, 57-year-old Regis Johnson, called 911 and reportedly said his child wasn't breathing. Judd says the mother, 35-year-old Arhonda Tillman, told deputies she tried to call 911 before but "they were busy."
The body of the little girl was found in an inflatable pool being used as a makeshift playpen, according to the sheriff's office.
Sheriff Judd says the parents were taken into custody after trying to defend their actions. They charged with negligent child abuse causing great harm.
While the official cause of death is unknown at this time, Judd said the child had no food in her stomach and only slight traces of fecal matter in her intestines, which all point to long-term starvation.
A third person, 64-year-old Frank Robinson, was later arrested for living in the same house while aware of the abuse and not reporting it, according to the sheriff's office. The man, who just so happens to be Regis Johnson's brother, was also charged with negligent child abuse causing great harm.
During the news conference, Judd had blocks on display showing the difference in the weight of a healthy toddler and how much the malnourished child weighed.
"Each of these blocks represents 1 pound...the baby should've been 32 pounds...this baby never got to be [as big as the blocks were representing]," Judd explained. "The baby didn't thrive because they wouldn't take her to the doctor, they wouldn't feed her."
Both Johnson and Tillman had their first court appearance Thursday afternoon. The state asked for a $500,000 bond to be set for each of them, an amount that was approved by the judge. If the couple posts bond, they will reportedly have to wear ankle monitors.
The investigation of the toddler's death is ongoing at this time, and Judd says he has the intention to charge the parents with "appropriate murder charges."
"No matter who you are, across the state or nation, if you see a child that's being neglected or abused, you have not only an ethical and moral obligation but a legal obligation in Florida to report," Judd said.
Watch the full news conference below.