The toddler’s father, 57-year-old Regis Johnson, spoke with authorities and reportedly claimed his daughter was born with a muscular dystrophy gene. He said he brought the child to a medical center in July 2021 to be tested, but the results came back incomplete. Johnson said that in the past two days, his daughter had only eaten a "few bites" of food.
At around 5:15 a.m. on Tuesday, May 10, Johnson had allegedly put his daughter in the inflatable pool, where she played with her toys. He said he left her unattended for a short duration and came back to find she was "cold to the touch and was not breathing," the Sheriff’s Office says.
On Monday, May 9, the victim’s mother, 35-year-old Arhonda Tillman, reportedly tried to feed her daughter a turkey sandwich before bed, but the child declined. The mother told authorities her daughter was able to crawl but couldn’t walk.
Upon further investigation, the Sheriff’s Office learned the juvenile victim had last been to the doctor in January 2020 for her six-month checkup, and the medical office had tried to contact the parents multiple times for a follow-up appointment because they believed the victim may have had cystic fibrosis.
Authorities also reportedly learned the Department of Children and Families launched a medical neglect investigation on Dec. 10, 2019, which determined the victim was losing weight and her parents didn’t seek necessary medical care. As a result of the investigation, Johnson was ordered to make a follow-up appointment with the girl’s doctor, and the investigation was closed, the Sheriff’s Office says.
An autopsy was performed on May 11, which determined the girl had no food in her stomach. She died of long-term starvation and only weighed 9.5 pounds upon her death, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
In a press conference, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the girl should have weighed 32 pounds and added that the mother was allegedly four months pregnant at the time of the toddler’s death.
During a follow-up interview, Johnson reportedly admitted that his daughter had last seen the doctor in January 2020 and not in August 2021, like he initially said. He also admitted that he knew his daughter was losing weight and still chose not to seek medical care.
On Wednesday, May 11, the Sheriff’s Office says Johnson and Tillman were arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail on charges of negligent child abuse causing great harm. They remain held without bond.
On Thursday, May 12, the Sheriff’s Office announced 64-year-old Frank Robinson was arrested for child abuse causing great harm and failure to report child abuse in connection to the case. Robinson, Johnson’s brother, reportedly lived with the victim and was aware of the abuse, but he didn’t report it.
In a statement, Judd said, "This is egregious and should never have occurred. Because of the actions of these parents, this little girl will never have the opportunity to grow up. If parents don’t want their child, there are resources like Safe Place locations – fire stations, social service facilities, etc. To learn more about Safe Place, go to www.nationalsafeplace.org."