Diane and Bernie Lierow have five wonderful sons and have always dreamed of extending their family.
When their children became adults and left home, the couple realized that they had much more love to offer a child in need.
The couple decided to add a daughter to their family after four of their five sons came of age and moved out.
After careful consideration, they decided to open their home to a child from less fortunate circumstances.
But when they attended an adoption event, the couple would find their lives forever changed due to a decision they made after they saw one single photograph.
The Lierows began to work with a local adoption agency not too long after they attended their first adoption event to meet potential adoptive children.
Although there were a lot of kids present, Diane couldn’t tear herself away from a black and white photo of a girl who was not able to attend the function.
”I just felt drawn to her,” Diane says.
The couple inquired about the girl, but the adoption agency gave them a warning. Diane was surprised by the way caseworkers greeted her curiosity about the child.
“All they would say was ‘you definitely don’t want her’,” remembers dad Bernie.
”Eventually one of the ladies told my wife; ‘there’s something wrong with her, that girl isn’t suitable for adoption’”, Bernie says.
They continued to warn the couple that there was “something wrong with” the girl in the picture. However, the couple persisted.
The Lierows were not ones to give up so easily. So they sought out the girl’s social worker for answers.
The social worker told them a story that broke the couple’s hearts, and that’s when they learned the horrific truth about the unimaginable abuse and neglect the young girl had suffered.
They found out that the little girl previously grew up in unthinkable conditions.
Danielle Crockett is known to many familiar with her sad story as “the girl in the window.”
In 2005 Police received a call from a concerned neighbor. The neighbor tipped them off that there was something unusual and terrible happening in the house next door.
She witnessed a thin, pale face that she didn’t recognize staring out of one of the windows.
Investigator Mark Holste and his partner arrived at the home. What they found would haunt them for years to come.
“It was the most outrageous case of neglect I’ve ever seen,” explains Holste.
“It sounded like you were walking on eggshells. You couldn’t take a step without crunching German cockroaches.”
Holste found Danielle abandoned at the back of the house occupying a soiled mattress. Her room was about the size of a wardrobe closet, and it was filled with dirty diapers.
Years of appalling conditions and neglect had left the 6-year-old girl extremely damaged.
Danielle could not talk or eat solid foods. She was covered in fleas and lice. She only weighed 46 pounds when the officers found her.
“The mother’s statement was: ‘I’m doing the best I can,’” Holste told Tampa Bay Times.
“I told her, ‘The best you can sucks!’”
About 85 percent of our brains develop within the first five years of life, explains psychologist Kathleen Armstrong, who examined Danielle.
The doctored described her condition as “environmental autism.” Because she’d been deprived of human contact for such a long time, she became “withdrawn into herself” and never learned how to interact with other human beings.
Danielle’s mother was immediately stripped of her parental rights, and Danielle spent six months at the hospital recovering before being discharged.
When the Lierows read about her story in the reports, they were heartbroken.
”It made me cry just to read how she had been kept and the conditions that she had been found in,” Diane says.
It indeed wasn’t easy when Danielle finally moved in with the couple.
“We didn’t know if she’d ever eat with a fork and a spoon,” Diane says.
“You start to think: I don’t know how far this child is going to go.”
Danielle suffered severe emotional meltdowns seven to eight times a day and could not stand going outside.
She screamed until she hurt her lungs and threw herself on the floor, her adopted parents explained in a 2009 interview.
Food was also a very sensitive area for the child. She would eat until she was sick because she’d never learned how to control her eating after being starved for her first six years of life.
Nevertheless, Diane and Bernie persisted in loving Danielle as one of their own children.
Eventually, with much love and encouragement, Danielle began to achieve remarkable progress!
Small things that may seem trivial to most, such as brushing her teeth, going to the bathroom by herself, and washing her hands, were enormous breakthroughs for Danielle. And she did it all thanks to the love, support, and patience of the Lierows.
“Small steps are big steps for someone who’s disabled,” Bernie explained in 2014.
“She’s learned to do things we never thought she would do.”
Speech is still an area of challenge for Danielle, but she usually greets her adoptive father with a “Hey Dad,” and has even told her parents “I love you.”
After her the horrific treatment she’s endured at the hands of her biological mother, Danielle is extra wiery around women and mother figures. It’s taken a very long time for her to develop the ability to socialize with others, but she’s getting better.
“She’s still aggressive around food”, Bernie told OWN in 2014.
But after Danielle’s progress so far, the family foresees a very bright future for her and have high hopes on what she can become.
”If she could just be a part of the community it would be a big plus,” Bernie says.
Although her story under the most unimaginably horrible circumstances, Danielle’s future is looking brighter every day thanks to the determination an love of Bernie and Diane Lierow, a couple who listened to their hearts and found treasure where others only saw a problem child.