POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd released new information Thursday on a case of negligent child abuse that led to a 2-year-old’s death.
Judd said that the parents, Regis Johnson, 57, and Arahonda Tillman, 35, have been arrested and booked into Polk County Jail, awaiting their first heating today at 1 pm.
Sheriff Judd said the child died of “long-term starvation.”
“This baby was born on July the 25th, 2019. Between July the 25th, 2019, and when they took the baby to the doctor In January of 2020, the child had gained three pounds and was thriving,” said Judd.
Judd said that was the last time the parents took the baby to the doctor.
“When the baby went to the doctor for the last time and May 10th, 2022, which was two years and four months, that sweet baby gained one ounce. So, the baby should have been 32 pounds. The baby should have been talking, putting sentences together, asking questions, saying that my diaper needs to be changed, running, jumping, and playing,” said Judd.
“When this baby died on May the 10th. She couldn’t stand; she couldn’t talk. She couldn’t walk,” added Judd.
During interviews, Johnson, the toddler’s father, told detectives that doctors believed she may share a muscular dystrophy gene with her mother when the child was born. He also told detectives he took the child to a medical appointment July of 2021 to be tested, but the test returned inconclusive.
Johnson further stated the most recent doctor’s appointment was in August of 2021. According to Johnson, the victim hadn’t wanted to eat much for the past two days, and when he tried to feed her she would only take a few bites.
Johnson told detectives that he placed the child in the inflatable pool at around 5:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, and she began playing with her toys. He left for a short time, and when he returned, the victim was “cold to the touch and was not breathing.”
Tillman, the victim’s mother, told detectives that she attempted to feed the child a turkey sandwich Monday (May 9) night before bed, but the victim did not want to eat. She stated that she didn’t know when the child had last seen a doctor, and added that the victim could crawl but not walk.
Detectives contacted the victim’s pediatrician. The doctor told detectives the child’s last doctor’s visit was in January of 2020, which was her 6-month check-up. The medical office attempted to contact the parents numerous times following the appointment as there was concern that the child may have Cystic Fibrosis.
During the investigation, detectives learned that on December 10, 2019, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) began a medical neglect investigation which revealed the victim was consistently losing weight and her parents were not following-up with doctor appointments. The DCF report indicated that after the parents complied with DCF instructions and following several positive weight checks, Johnson was instructed to follow-up with the victim’s primary care physician, and DCF then closed the investigation.
On May 11th, the District 10 Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy on the victim which determined the victim had no food in her stomach and suffered from long term starvation. She only weighed 9.5 pounds at the time of death.
When detectives again spoke with Johnson following the autopsy, and he admitted the victim’s last doctor’s appointment was in January 2020 and not August of 2021 as he originally stated. He also told detectives that he knew his daughter was “not gaining weight and not developing as normal.” He further said that he “knew the victim was losing weight and was not thriving” and still did not seek medical attention.
Both parents have been charged with aggravated child neglect, but Judd said he intends to file murder charges in this case.
“If you can imagine looking at such a heartbreaking sight, it was just bones and skin,” Judd said. “There aren’t adequate words to express my frustration.”
Judd stated that Tillman claimed she is four months pregnant, but “she won’t get the chance to starve another one.” Judd said his goal will be to make sure that child is eventually placed with “a loving family.”
Judd urged anyone who suspects a child may be abused or neglected to tell authorities.
“If you see something, or hear something, for God’s sake, say something. Children’s lives are at stake if you don’t,” he said.