Police: Several Family Members Saw Girls' Burns, Did Nothing

Family: Parents Afraid Of Jail Time If They Reported Girl's Burns

At least six people saw an 11-year-old girl on her family's couch, unable to walk and crying in pain after suffering second- and third-degree burns that went untreated for nearly two weeks, police said.

The girl's parents -- Fredrick and Sharon Wessel -- were charged on Friday with felony child neglect resulting in serious bodily injury. They were arrested on Wednesday after someone in the neighborhood called 911 to report that their daughter, Heather Wessel, had been badly burned, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported.

Police said the girl was standing near a propane heater inside the family's southeast-side home at 343 Villa Ave. on Dec. 24 when her pajama bottoms caught fire. Her parents told police that she had been unable to walk, but that they had been treating her burns with moisturizer.

The girl was transported to Wishard Memorial Hospital and then Riley Hospital For Children on Tuesday and underwent surgery on Wednesday.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Sharon Wessel told police that the home had not had heat since they moved in and that she owed more than $1,000 on her gas bill. Investigators said the home did have water, phone service and cable TV.

Six people quoted in the affidavit, including several family members, told police that they had seen the girl lying on the couch in pain, and had known that she was not able to walk because of the burns. They told police Fredrick and Sharon Wessel said they were afraid they would go to jail if they took their daughter to a hospital.

Ambulance records obtained by 6News on Thursday showed that Fredrick Wessel -- who recently underwent a tracheotomy -- called medics to the family's home at least once for himself after his daughter had been burned.

"There's no question about it that they knew that this was a severe burn and that she needed medical treatment, they just chose not to seek that," said Marion County Chief Trial Deputy David Wyser.

Heather Wessel was last listed in critical condition. Her 14-year-old brother was taken into custody by Child Protective Services.