On June 11, 2001, police officers went to the Hutchins, Texas, home of Kenneth and Barbara Atkinson. They had gotten a call that Barbara Kavanaugh’s eight-year-old daughter, Lauren, was being abused, but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw when they went inside.
Because Kavanaugh was so small, the first officer who came to the scene thought she was a child. The girl was taken to a hospital in Dallas, where doctors were shocked to see that she was about the size of a typical two-year-old. Officials looked into how this could have happened right away, and the truth was much worse than anyone had thought.
Lauren Kavanaugh had been locked in a closet for six years, and the Atkinson family only let her out to sexually abuse and torture her. Her organs were shutting down because she wasn’t getting enough food, and her lower body was red and peeling because she had been sitting in her own urine and feces for months.
Many experts thought she would never have anything close to a normal life, but when she graduated from high school in 2013, she shocked everyone. Kavanaugh keeps trying to move on from her past as “the girl in the closet,” even though she still has nightmares about the horrible abuse she got from her own mother and has had legal problems of her own.
Details of Birth, Adoption, And Return
Lauren Kavanaugh was born on April 12, 1993, but her mother, Barbara, had already decided to put her up for adoption. Sabrina Kavanaugh, the woman who wanted to raise Lauren, was in the delivery room. She later told The Dallas Morning News how excited she and her husband were to bring the baby into their home.
Sabrina said, “That was the best day of our lives.” “I guess you could say that we loved her before she was born. We gave her and her baby clothes a room. It was really cool.”
Sabrina had met Barbara, who was 21, a few months before, right after Barbara found out she was pregnant. They talked about how the adoption would work at several meetings before Lauren was born. Sabrina said, “She was sure that she wanted to give it up.” “She had no idea who the father was.”
Sabrina and her husband Bill took care of Lauren like she was their own for the next eight months. But one day, they got word that Barbara was going to file a petition to get custody of the baby. It turned out that the Kavanaugh’s lawyer had never filed the paperwork to end Barbara’s parental rights, and she was determined to get Lauren back.
Barbara’s mother, Doris Calhoun, told The Dallas Morning News, “Barbie could have changed her mind at any time. When a mother decides to give up a child, she is not giving up on that child; she is making a loving choice. That’s a kind, wonderful choice, and she’s a great person for making it.”
Soon, the court gave Barbara and her new husband, Kenneth Atkinson, more and more time with Lauren. The Kavanaugh had to slowly give up the child they had raised as their daughter over the next year, even though they thought the Atkinson family was mistreating her.
Sabrina Kavanaugh saw that the area under Lauren’s diaper was very red at one point. She said, “I don’t think it was diaper rash.” “She wouldn’t let us touch that diaper, so I think Kenny was already sexually abusing her.
Sabrina took Lauren to the hospital, but the doctors wouldn’t do a rape kit on her. The Kavanaughs then gave the judge 45 photos as proof, but the judge told them, “You’re hurting this baby more with all these photos than that mother ever will.”
In 1995, Judge Lynn E. Markham awarded the Atkinsons permanent custody of Lauren. For the next six years, the little girl would face unimaginable abuse.
The Torturous Life Of Lauren Kavanaugh
After Lauren Kavanaugh was rescued from the Atkinson home in 2001, doctors said she had stopped growing around the age of two, which is the same age she was when she was given back to her real mother.
Detective Sergeant David Landers told The Dallas Morning News, “Barbie just put Lauren on the floor next to her on a pallet to start. But Lauren would get up and go into the other room and mess with things, so Barbie started locking her in the closet with a little gate.
“Then, when Lauren was old enough to push it down, Barbie just shut the door.”
Lauren went to family events with her other five siblings for the first few years. Doris, Barbara’s mother, remembered that Lauren always tried to eat anything she could find when she was at their house. Barbara told her that Lauren had an eating disorder.
But Doris stopped seeing Lauren after Thanksgiving 1999, when she was six years old. Doris never asked Barbara why she always said she was at a friend’s house.
In reality, Lauren Kavanaugh was locked in her mother’s closet, where her older sister sometimes brought her cold soup, crackers, and tubs of butter. On the few occasions she was let out of the closet, she had to go through even worse torture than being alone.
The girl was sexually abused by both Kenneth and Barbara Atkinson from the time she was a toddler. Blake Strohl, Lauren’s brother, remembered hearing the girl scream from her bedroom and thinking that her parents were hitting her.
When the Atkinsons weren’t raping Lauren themselves, they rented her out to other paedophiles. Lauren screamed when she saw a person dressed as a clown the first Halloween after she was saved. She asked, “Are you taking me to the Candyman’s house?” One of the men who raped her often called himself the Candyman and always wore a clown mask.
Lauren Kavanaugh’s mother and stepfather both beat her up in painful ways. Barbara would hold her head under the running faucet until she couldn’t breathe, laughing the whole time, when she bathed Lauren.
She would also give the hungry child a bowl of macaroni and cheese and tell her, “Chew it, but don’t swallow it.” Even though Kenneth and Barbara had five other children, all of whom were abused in different ways, Lauren was the only one who was often locked up and not given food.
Barbara later told Child Protective Services, “I’ve never loved Lauren. I didn’t want her. When my other kids hurt, I hurt too. I didn’t feel anything when Lauren was hurt.”
Kenneth Atkinson finally told someone about Lauren after being abused for six years. It’s not clear if he had a sudden change of heart or if he did it as a cruel way to get back at Barbara for cheating on him, but Lauren’s long life of being locked up alone ended in June 2001.
The Heartbreaking Rescue Of Lauren Kavanaugh
Kenneth Atkinson told his neighbour Jeanie Rivers on June 11, 2001, that he had to show her something. He led her to the bedroom closet, opened the door, and told her the secret that he and Barbara had been keeping for more than five years.
Rivers said later, “What I saw was a monster, a small monster. She was so thin and colourless. Her arms looked like they were no more than an inch wide. She had nothing on.”
Rivers and her husband called the police, who rushed to the house. Gary McClain, the first officer to arrive, later said, “I walk in and I’m looking for an eight-year-old, but I saw what looked like a three-year-old sitting there. So I ask right away, “Where is Lauren?”
The young girl had cigarette burns and puncture wounds all over her body, and she was upset that there were bugs in her hair. When the police asked her how old she was, she said, “I’m two because I’ve had two birthday parties.”
Doctors at the hospital found out that she only weighed 25.6 pounds. Her oesophagus was full of plastic, carpet fibers, and feces, and her genitalia were so damaged from years of sexual abuse that there was only one opening for both her vagina and her anus. To fix the damage, she had to have several reconstructive surgeries.
One doctor said of Lauren: “We’ve had children who’ve been beaten. We’ve had kids who have gone hungry. We’ve had children who were sexually abused, left alone, and abused emotionally. We’ve never had a child who had everything, though.”
Lauren’s brain had shrunk because she had been locked in a closet during her most important years of growth. Most experts didn’t think she would ever live a normal life again. Dr. Barbara Rila, a psychologist in Dallas who helped Lauren soon after she was rescued, later said, “If you had asked me then, I would have said this young girl didn’t have much of a future or hope. I’d never seen a child so physically and emotionally broken before.”
But Bill and Sabrina Kavanaugh, Lauren’s first adoptive parents, worked hard to get the “girl in the closet” out of her four-by-eight-foot box and into the real world.
Lauren’s Reunion With The Kavanaughs And Her Long Road To Recovery
When the Kavanaughs heard what had happened, they quickly asked if they could adopt Lauren again. When the 8-year-old saw them for the first time, she asked, “Are these my new mom and dad?”
Lauren had a hard time getting used to her new life. She didn’t know how to use a potty, a fork, or a spoon. She was also very careful with her food because she was afraid someone would take it away. She screamed that bugs were biting her feet the first time she went outside barefoot because she had never felt grass before.
But Bill and Sabrina Kavanaugh worked closely with Lauren and her therapists, and 13 months after Lauren was saved from the Atkinson home, they officially adopted her in July 2002.
Since then, Lauren’s life has not been easy. She has trouble with her mental health, and when she was 12, the husband of her cousin raped her. In 2018, she was arrested for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. She was found to not be able to stand trial, so she was sent to a mental health facility.
Meanwhile, Kenneth and Barbara Atkinson are both spending life in prison for felony injury to a child.
Lauren has always tried to figure out what she can learn from her terrible situation. She told The Dallas Morning News, “I don’t want to be like my parents.” “That’s my main goal. I’m afraid of becoming like them because I feel it every day. I get angry like my mother does. I’m just trying to keep it under control.”