Neighbors Heartbroken Over Circumstances Of Girl's Death

Parents Charged Months After Child Dies Of Malnourishment, Salt Poisoning

Two parents charged with neglect of a dependent causing death months after their 5-year-old daughter died were in court Tuesday as neighbors discussed the unusual case.

Authorities said Lauren McConniel died of malnourishment and salt poisoning at the hands of her stepfather, Ryan McConniel, and stepmother, Brittany McConniel.

Neighbors said they were incredulous and heartbroken over what police said happened in the family's home in the 2300 block of Ebright Street, 6News' Rick Hightower reported.

"That's unbelievable. That's been the topic all day at work … and people just can't believe it," said Jeff Hill, who lives nearby.

The girl's parents were lodged in the Delaware County Jail after a Tuesday hearing in which they were charged with the Class A felony.

When 6News tried to speak with those still living at the house on Tuesday, someone yelled out, "We don't want to talk to anybody."

Police said there were eight people living in the home, including the girl's grandparents.

According to police reports, bizarre behavior preceded the girl's death. In one instance, the McConniels took her to a Muncie church, where a youth minister tried to get her to come inside for a party, but the child swore at the minister, authorities said.

The report indicated that after five minutes, the church worker gave up and told the parents they needed to seek professional help for the girl.

Police said the girl's parents lied to investigators about seeking timely medical treatment for Lauren, who they contended displayed psychotic behavior.

"The stepmother and father would report that the child was being treated for various illnesses elsewhere when in all truthfulness, she wasn't being treated by any other doctors," said Muncie police Sgt. Jim Gibson.

Neighbor Terry Davis said the family was nice to him, even offering at one point to help him move into his house. He never suspected anything wrong.

"Makes you want to check around the neighborhood and make sure your kids are safe," he said. "If you see anything, you might want to report what you see."

"I just wish somebody could have intervened sooner and maybe saved the child's life," Hill said.

Charges were filed months after Lauren's death at Riley Hospital for Children on March 9.

Investigators said that Lauren had extremely high levels of salt in her system and that there was evidence of physical trauma.

Prior to August 2009, the girl lived with her birth mother in Tennessee and was in good health, police said.

The girl had been taken to a mental health facility for evaluation. She wasn't speaking much and had been put back in a diaper at age 5.

According to the probable cause affidavit, the McConniels told authorities that the girl would store food in her cheeks, mutilate her toys, bite herself and her siblings to the point of bleeding and that she stared at the wall saying, "I hate myself."

The parents also told police that the girl ate food out of the trash and consumed her own vomit, but authorities allege that they didn't tell doctors about her bizarre behavior.