Joel Achenbach pointed his readers to this Pulitzer-winning story from the St. Petersburg Times, noting that it has gone viral with more than a million page views. It is, as Achenbach says, a powerful story -- one filled with heartbreak, a sad touch of horror and a bit of hope. The story, "The Girl in the Window", tells of a seven-year-old feral girl found in Florida three years ago and her amazing transition under the care of her adoptive family.
It's a terribly hard story to read from the start:
First he saw the girl's eyes: dark and wide, unfocused, unblinking. She wasn't looking at him so much as through him.
She lay on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side, long legs tucked into her emaciated chest. Her ribs and collarbone jutted out; one skinny arm was slung over her face; her black hair was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin. Though she looked old enough to be in school, she was naked — except for a swollen diaper.
"The pile of dirty diapers in that room must have been 4 feet high," the detective said. "The glass in the window had been broken, and that child was just lying there, surrounded by her own excrement and bugs."
When he bent to lift her, she yelped like a lamb. "It felt like I was picking up a baby," Holste said. "I put her over my shoulder, and that diaper started leaking down my leg."
The girl didn't struggle. Holste asked, What's your name, honey? The girl didn't seem to hear.
He searched for clothes to dress her, but found only balled-up laundry, flecked with feces. He looked for a toy, a doll, a stuffed animal. "But the only ones I found were covered in maggots and roaches."
Choking back rage, he approached the mother. How could you let this happen?
But tucked throughout the story are those people -- including now-nine-year-old Danielle -- and those moments that make you want to read on.
Bernie bought her a new trundle so she can slide out the bottom bunk and be at floor level. Diane found pink Hello Kitty sheets and a stuffed glow worm so Dani will never again be alone in the dark.
"You got your wormie? You ready to go to sleep?" Bernie asks, bending to pick up his daughter. She's turning slow circles beneath the window, holding her worm by his tail. Bernie lifts her to the glass and shows her the sun, slipping behind the neighbor's house.