Girl, 8, freed after being imprisoned for nearly her whole life, say German authorities

Railroad tracks run through the town of Attendorn, where an eight-year-old girl is said to have been held in a house for almost her entire life. Markus Klümper/Getty Images

An eight-year-old German girl was recently freed from captivity after allegedly being locked away by her mother and grandparents for nearly her entire life.

When the girl, who was identified only as Maria by German media, was finally released, she was so physically underdeveloped that she was “barely able to climb stairs on her own or navigate uneven ground,” according to senior public prosecutor Patrick Baron von Grotthuss.

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The local prosecutor’s office believes the young girl had been confined to a locked room in her grandparents’ house in Attendorn, a small town east of Cologne, since she was about one-and-a-half years old.

“She can’t have managed to get much of a glimpse of the outside world,” Grotthuss added.

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When doctors at Siegen children’s hospital examined Maria, she told them she had never seen a forest, been in a meadow or been driven in a car, local outlet SauerlandKurier reported. District authorities stated that there are no signs the child was physically abused or malnourished, but she is still receiving treatment, “especially with regard to psychological consequences.”

Maria has been placed with a foster family while the City of Siegen further investigates her mother and grandparents for deprivation of liberty and child abuse. The mother is reported to be 47 and could face up to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors so far have no answers as to why the mother and grandparents imprisoned the girl, with SauerlandKurier reporting that they have declined to answer the police’s questions.

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But how could a child have been imprisoned undetected for seven years without anyone noticing?

According to a statement made by the district of Olpe, the relationship between the child’s mother and father had broken down before Maria was born. Then, in June 2015, the child’s mother registered with the municipality that she and her daughter moved to Calabria in Italy.

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The district reports that they received anonymous tips that the girl was actually still living with her mother and grandparents in Attendorn — but they say they found no solid evidence to corroborate these claims.

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“Allegations of a possible endangerment of the child’s welfare could not be substantiated,” the district wrote. “There was no concrete evidence that the child did not live in Italy.”

According to SauerlandKurier, the child’s father even reported to youth welfare authorities that he had seen the mother and child in Attendorn in September 2015.

No concrete action was taken until July of this year, when an anonymous couple notified police of rumours and stories from friends that a child was being held captive at the grandparents’ house. On July 14, the district youth welfare office contacted authorities in Italy to find the mother and child in Calabria.

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On Sept. 12, Italy’s Ministry of Justice confirmed to German authorities that “the child’s mother never settled at the address indicated in your request.”

About a week and a half later, German authorities obtained a warrant to withdraw parental custody rights from the mother and police and the youth welfare office were sent to search the grandparents’ home.

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Olpe’s district administrator, Theo Melcher, said he hopes that the police investigation into the girl’s imprisonment will turn up more answers as to “why the girl was hidden for so many years and why she was denied a ‘normal’ childhood.”

“I am pleased that the girl was able to be freed from this situation,” he added.

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