Mom's boyfriend charged in case of 10-year-old found in closet

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The boyfriend of a woman who allegedly locked her 10-year-old daughter in a closet was charged with two counts of child endangerment on Wednesday.

Marcus Benson has been charged with failure to protect and failure to provide proper nourishment. Benson originally claimed he didn't know the 10-year-old girl was in the closet, but police believe otherwise.

A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

The girl, who police refer to by her initials, LP, was found June 22 in horrible living conditions.

While conducting a welfare check that morning based on a tip to the Missouri Department of Family Services (DFS), police went to the apartment complex at 1318 Highland.

They found closet doors tied shut in a bedroom which reeked of urine. After hearing the girl respond to their calls, police cut a rope used to tie the doorknobs of the closet together.

They found her severely malnourished and living in a closet covered in her own feces.

"Give or take a few (pounds) she weighs about a third of what a 10-year-old should weigh," said Kansas City Police Captain Steve Young.

Officials believe the girl had been living in the closet for an extended period of time. Officers discovered the closet was her bedroom and bathroom. The closet was rigged where it could only be opened from the outside.

LP's mother, Jacole Prince was arrested and charged with child abuse, endangering the welfare of a child and assault. Prosecutors say Prince told them she kept her daughter hidden because she knew people would be able to tell the girl was not healthy.

Neighbors say the mother and her two younger daughters lived in the apartment with her boyfriend. They did not know a third girl existed. Neighbors also told police the boyfriend was the father of the younger daughters, but not the father of the 10-year-old, which officials later confirmed.

Benson told police he didn't know the girl lived there, let alone that she was being starved and locked in a closet.

It is unknown how long the 10-year-old girl was kept in the closet, but six years ago she had classmates and a teacher. In 2006, she was enrolled in Kindergarten at Woodland Elementary. Her school records stop the next year.

How can a child disappear?

"It is that easy," said Cedric Workcuff, snapping his fingers.

The 20-year-old just got his high school diploma from Hope Academy and is heading into the Army. He's excited for the discipline and the chance to continue to be a musician.

He also remembers how easy it was for him to skip school.

"I can say that I let myself slip away one time and I wasn't here for about a month or two," he said. "And if it wasn't for my brother telling me 'You need to get your education,' not to mention my parents..."

Workcuff added that a few of his teachers did call to check up on him.

But no one called to check on Rebecca Fletcher when she left eighth grade.

"Actually no," she said. "My mother called up there."

Her mother had pulled her out for home schooling. When her mother passed away last year, Rebecca came to Hope Academy, too. Now she wants to become a nurse just like the nurses who cared for her terminally ill mom.

But she knows there are several other students who could easily disappear from school.

"They just give up, they're not encouraged," she said.

Kansas City Public Schools have been cracking down on truancy. In response to a recent change in the way data is collected, officials say the district has started to track students leaving the district.

A representative from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said that five years ago, data collecting began to include the exit status of students from all grades in a district. Previously, only dropouts from grades 7-12 were collected.

KCPS efforts since this change have dramatically affected their dropout rates. With dropout recovery efforts and tracking students, district officials say they have since removed 786 students from their dropout list.

When the little girl locked in a closet was enrolled in Kindergarten, this new data collection wasn't in place.

The Compulsory Age Attendance Law mandates students ages 7 through 17 be in school.

In 2006, the little girl found in a closet was just 5 years old. Even if she had been 7, her parent or guardian would have been legally responsible for making sure she attended regularly. If not, the parent or guardian may be reported to the department of social services.

LP's mother was reported -- six years later.

Benson's bond has been set at $100,000.

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