For LP’s birthday, love and gifts from strangers

One child named Katie took out her crayons and colored a handful of pictures for a little girl she’s never met.

Another named Eva just wanted that same little girl to know she’s praying for her. And a group of Sunday school kids from a Kansas City, Kan., church put markers and stickers, glitter and glue on construction paper to help make LP, the girl they’ve heard about through the news, feel special.

Five weeks ago, authorities found the 10-year-old — known in police records only as LP — locked in a dark and tiny closet, her 32-pound body frail and malnourished. Authorities believe she was kept hidden inside her mom’s Kansas City apartment for several years, not allowed to play outside or go to school. Her mother reportedly kept a bowl and a bottle behind the couch where the girl would sometimes eat.

LP’s story tugged at people across the city and the country, from Georgia and Washington, D.C., to Colorado and California. And for the past couple of weeks, the cards and donations, gifts and well wishes have poured in.

Because of that, once LP turns 11 on Wednesday, she’ll have at least 400 cards to open, and large boxes of school supplies, coloring books and toys to look through. Also, a new bike and a birthday party hosted in her honor, where kids from her neighborhood plan to sing “Happy Birthday” on video.

All of this from hundreds of strangers who say they simply want her to know she’s loved.

One card, tucked inside a bag of presents, was addressed to “The most amazing 11 year old I know.”

“You are lifted up in prayer and loved by an entire community,” the Kansas City woman wrote. “Enjoy your day, little one.”

Added another: “Remember Dear, each day gets much, much better.” The woman called LP “Little Princess.”

Jacole Prince, the girl’s mother, is jailed on felony charges of assault, child abuse and child endangerment. She has pleaded not guilty. A man police said is Prince’s boyfriend, Marcus Benson — father of her two younger daughters, but not LP — has been charged with two counts of child endangerment.

Kansas City police arrested Prince on June 22, the day a hotline call alerted authorities about a little girl locked in a closet and not allowed out to eat or go to the bathroom. Police officers and a child welfare case worker found LP inside a second-floor closet at Theron B. Watkins Homes in the 1300 block of Highland Avenue. She told authorities her mom locked her in the closet, which was soaked in urine and feces, for days at a time.

The state took custody of LP and her sisters, ages 8 and 2.

In a family court hearing Monday, where Prince’s brother and sister waited to hear information about their nieces, the judge granted a motion by the children’s guardian ad litem to close the legal file and future court proceedings. Now everything will proceed in family court behind closed doors.

Jermak Prince, Jacole’s older brother, left the courtroom disappointed. He wants more information about his nieces and answers about his sister.

“She really needs help,” he said about Jacole Prince. “... She needs to be evaluated.”

Records show that Jacole Prince admitted in early 2006 that she intentionally withheld food from LP so the girl wouldn’t go to the bathroom too often. The state took custody of LP and a younger sister in February 2006. About 13 months later, after Prince reportedly worked through a checklist of requirements set by the state, she got her two daughters back.

A month later, LP stopped going to school and disappeared from sight. Neighbors of Prince have said they didn’t even know that LP lived in the apartment, although they had often seen Prince with her two younger daughters.

Prince pulled away from her siblings and other family after their mother passed away in late 2007, friends and relatives have said. She wouldn’t let most people inside the home, often standing in the doorway and blocking the view inside.

Jermak Prince said for much of his niece’s early life, he was in prison, first for drug-related charges, then off and on for parole violations. He has been out since 2009. When she was younger and he was out of prison, he spent time with LP and felt close to her. She called him “Big Mak.” When he got out of prison, he would ask Jacole Prince about LP and whether he could talk to her on the phone. When they spoke, he said, his niece sounded good.

In the last year, the family had a holiday get-together at one of his other sister’s houses. Jacole Prince and her daughters, including LP, were there.

“She was smiling, seemed happy,” Jermak Prince said Monday. “I didn’t notice anything wrong with her. I was just happy the family was together. I thought she was cool.”

After Jacole Prince was arrested, someone called him to say his sister was on TV accused of abusing his niece.

“I’m mad at the situation,” he said. “I’m not just mad at her, because I know something’s wrong. Why are they trying to blow her up as a monster? You need to realize she needs an evaluation.”

He spoke to her recently from jail where he said she’s been under a suicide watch. She mentioned to him that she wanted to write her daughter a letter for her birthday. He said he didn’t know whether she had done so.

On Wednesday, his niece’s birthday, residents inside the apartment complex where LP lived will have a community party for her at 4 p.m. The idea, said organizer Dorothy Burrell, is to show everyone — including LP, who won’t be there — how much love and support she would have had if the neighbors had known about her.

The party will have a DJ, cake and ice cream, and a puppet show. Party-goers are asked to bring a gift for LP.

“We’ll have a lot of the things she would have enjoyed if she were here to have a real birthday party,” Burrell said. “It’s her day. She’s never been able to have a birthday, so we wanted to give her one.”

A Kansas City woman organized a card shower for LP’s birthday and then word spread to others that they could send care packages or donations for the girl. The Local Investment Commission, or LINC, started accepting the cards and gifts on LP’s behalf.

Some messages inside the cards were short: “You have such a strong spirit — you will be okay.”

A few were lengthy.

“ I have heard about you and I believe you are a brave girl to have endured as much as you have in your life,” one woman wrote. “You are special and worthy of love and have people supporting you even from afar.”

Several inmates from Missouri correctional facilities in Potosi and Cameron sent cards. One mailed a hand-knitted white and lavender winter hat with the initials “LP” tacked on the front.

One woman sent a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” She wrote: “This is one of my favorite books. I hope you will soon be able to read it and take its message to heart.”

Gayle Hobbs, president of LINC, said the response has been immense and at times emotional.

“First you see the tragedy of it, then you see the hope of it,” she said Monday. “People do care. They want to send whatever they can.”

Ashton and Eric Nelson of Olathe have four foster children around the same ages as LP and her two sisters. They continue to follow LP’s story.

“We are faced every day with the grueling challenges of helping foster kids deal with their past,” Ashton Nelson said. “Stories like LP’s are the reason people like us become foster parents. Those are the kinds of kids you want to help.”