It was hard for Sgt. Brent Moore to fathom. That healthy, 13-year-old boy he reconnected with Saturday, could he really be the same emaciated child Moore and three other law officers rescued from an attic in DeSoto six years ago?
“To what happened that night to today, it’s just night and day,” Moore said. “He was 7 years old, and not even 20 pounds.”
Seventeen pounds to be exact. Skin stretched across jutting bones.
“You see pictures from World War II,” Moore said. “He was like that.”
Govi is a muscular 101 pounds now, mom Stacy Eastwood said as her adopted son worked the room like a celebrity at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department training center. Smiling. Shaking hands. Beckoning family and his good friends in uniform for hug after hug.
“He’s a spotlight, you know,” Eastwood said. “He likes to be the center of attention.”
Govi (pronounced jo-vee) was clearly the focus Saturday morning as he helped instructors with an anti-bullying program that drew more than 30 kids ranging in age from 5 to 12. The Northland teen also reunited with Moore and the others who saved him.
On an August night six years ago, Deputy John Klingele pushed up on the attic door in a filthy house that smelled like urine and a small boy’s legs flopped down. Nobody knew if Govi would survive. He was a few weeks shy of his 7th birthday, frail and emaciated. He couldn’t walk, nor could he talk much. Old enough to have been in second grade, yet the boy with Down syndrome had never been potty trained, much less gone to school.
The mother who gave birth to him had hidden him away.
The Star told Govi’s story last fall. In a three-day series, the newspaper detailed his abuse and how with the love of one family — and the help of counselors and educators and a wrestling team in the Kansas City area — he became whole.
Deputies responded to the DeSoto duplex after a woman called to say she believed her great-grandson was inside. Family members became worried about Govi — short for Giovanni — after a relative got inside the duplex the day before and saw the weak and emaciated boy all alone with a bowl of water in front of him.
Since his rescue, many at the sheriff’s department have wondered about him. They followed news stories and combed through photos and videos The Star published last year.
They finally met him last week to get him prepared to help with the bullying program.
The contrast between the boy in the attic they knew and the healthy teenager he is today was overwhelming,
“Wow, that little boy has come a long way,” said Capt. Mark Rokusek, one of two supervisors on the scene six years ago. “It’s so comforting to know he’s in a loving home.”
In preparing for Saturday’s event, Lt. Tyson Kilbey showed Govi a few moves that kids can use to break free if someone pins them down.
“I asked, ‘You think you can help us out with this?’” Kilbey said. “He was like, ‘I got this, man.’ ”
After the program, all the kids attending got a certificate, except Govi. He got a plaque designating him a “True Champion” and an honorary deputy sheriff.
He even got his own a badge number.
“My badge is 769,” Govi said.
That is the same number Klingele, now a sergeant, was wearing the night he, Moore, Rokusek and Deputy Evan Romerio first met Govi, who is now in sixth grade in the Park Hill School District and has an appetite, his mom said, that just won’t quit.
“It gives me hope,” Rokusek said, “that good things happen to good people in this world.”