German authorities helped free an 8-year-old girl whose mother allegedly held her captive inside their family home in Attendorn for seven years.
Authorities believe the girl, identified by the pseudonym Maria, had not stepped foot outside since she was 1-and-a-half years old before being rescued her from her maternal grandparents’ home on Sept. 23.
“She can’t have managed to get much of a glimpse of the outside world,” prosecutor Patrick Baron von Grotthuss told local newspaper Sauerland Kurier.
Maria did not appear to be malnourished or physically abused, but she had some trouble walking upstairs. She was also described as curious and articulate, according to Sauerland Kurier.
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Police in the district of Ople, where Attendorn is located, placed Maria with a foster care family after the rescue, according to a Nov. 6 statement.
Local government documents indicated that Maria’s mother moved the two to Calabria, Italy in June 2015, and Maria’s father had been unable to contact them since around that time, according to police.
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He told investigators, however, that he had seen Maria’s mother in Attendorn, Sauerland Kurier reported.
Ople authorities also received tips indicating that the girl still lived with her mother and grandparents in their Attendorn home in the years following her apparently staged move to Italy.
Police did not find any solid evidence to corroborate those tips, and allegations of possible child endangerment could not be substantiated. On the other hand, there was also no solid evidence proving the child lived in Italy with her mother, Ople authorities said.
In July, a couple with no direct connection to the girl’s family reported possible child abuse based on stories they heard from friends who were sure that Maria was being held captive in her grandparents’ home. On July 14, a request for an administrative assistant from the Ople youth welfare office was initiated and forwarded to Italian authorities. Two months later, on Sept, 12, the youth welfare office received an email from Italian authorities stating that the child’s mother had never lived at the claimed address in Italy.
On Sept. 23, a family court withdrew certain custody rights from Maria’s parents, and her mother was ordered to immediately transfer the 8-year-old girl from her care to the youth welfare office. That same day, authorities searched the home of the girl’s grandparents and located her.
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The local prosecutor’s office is now investigating the child’s mother and grandparents, who may face criminal charges.
Questions about why Maria’s mother and grandparents hid her at home for seven years remains a mystery, police said in their statement.