Florida couple arrested in starving death of 9-pound toddler: ‘She couldn’t stand. She couldn’t talk’

·3 min read

A Florida couple may face murder charges after the starvation death of their nearly 3-year-old daughter, according to local authorities.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference Thursday that Regis Johnson, 57, and Arhonda Tillman, 35, of Davenport, are charged with aggravated child neglect, but that murder charges are possible after authorities investigate the “horribly sad” death.

“What shocks our conscience is nothing in this world is more important to us than our children and their growth and their ability to thrive,” Judd said. “They’re innocent. And they depend solely upon us for everything.

“So this little girl, this baby girl, was born at 6 pounds and 10 ounces. ... This baby, when it died, weighed 9 pounds,” said an emotional Judd, standing on a podium lined with blocks to represent each pound the tot weighed and each pound she should have weighed. “This baby should have weighed 32 pounds.”

The 34-month-old little girl, whose name was not given, was born on July 25, 2019 and since the child was last seen by a doctor in January 2020, and her death this past Tuesday, “That sweet baby gained 1 ounce,” Judd added.

“The baby should have been talking, putting sentences together, asking questions, telling that ‘my diaper needs to be changed,’ running, jumping, and playing. When this baby died, on May the 10th, she couldn’t stand. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t walk. This baby never got to be this big,” continued Judd, knocking over the collection of 32 blocks.”

Judd added that the dad weighs 213 pounds, while the mom, who has said she is pregnant, weighs 144 pounds.

Judd noted that food was found in the home and, despite Johnson’s claims that his daughter had eaten a sandwich and chicken nuggets Monday, the medical examination found the tot “had zero food in her stomach.

“This baby laid in a playpen made out of an inflatable swimming pool and starved absolutely to death,” continued Judd. “The baby didn’t thrive because they wouldn’t take her to the doctor. They wouldn’t feed her.”

A call to 911 was placed Tuesday, he said, noting, “The father of the year ... said that his child wasn’t breathing. We talked to mom, she said she’d called 911 before. But they were busy. What?”

Judd said the couple “made admissions” and “defended their action.”

“If you can imagine looking at such a heartbreaking sight, basically it was just bones and skin,” he recalled. “There aren’t adequate words to explain our frustration and our sadness.”

Judd promised a full and thorough investigation. He said that, to authorities’ knowledge, the couple has no other children and if Tillman is indeed pregnant again, she’ll receive pre-natal care while in custody before the child is placed with another family.

“She won’t get another chance to starve a child to death,” he said, imploring reluctant parents in the community to turn their children over to a hospital or fire station. “Don’t starve the child.”

He also made a plea to those witnessing abusive acts.

“If you see something or hear something, for God’s sake, say something,” said Judd. “Children’s lives are at stake if you don’t.”