Parents Bernie and Diane Lierow had successfully raised their five sons to adulthood when they realized that they wanted to adopt a little girl.
Excited at the prospect of growing their family, they got the ball rolling on the adoption process and attended an event to meet prospective adoptive children. But when they saw a photograph of one particular little girl, the decision they made to bring her into their home—despite warnings from the agency—would change her life forever.
There were plenty of children to learn about at the adoption event that the Lierows attended in Tampa Bay in 2007. But despite the smiles on all of the children’s faces, the couple were drawn to a singular picture of a little girl with what was described as “dark, vacant eyes.”
Insistent, they asked the adoption agency more about her—and were horrified when they were told of her past as a cautionary tale.
The little girl had actually been all over the news two years before the Lierows decided to adopt a child. When a neighbor saw an unfamiliar face at the window of a dilapidated house in Plant City, about half an hour outside of Tampa, they called the police—and law enforcement walked into a horrifying case of abuse that left them reeling.
The face in the window was the little girl in the picture the Lierows saw, an almost-7-year-old child named Danielle Crockett. She was found sitting on a soiled mattress in a tiny room overflowing with dirty diapers, covered in fleas and weighing just 46 pounds (approx. 21 kg).
Danielle, or Dani, couldn’t speak and had no knowledge of human contact or social conduct. She couldn’t eat solid foods, and was diagnosed with a condition known as “environmental autism” due to the severe neglect that left her brain horrifically underdeveloped.
Authorities had quickly removed her from her mother and spent six months rehabilitating her in a hospital, but they warned the Lierows that she wasn’t going to be an easy child to adopt; she couldn’t speak or interact, and there was a chance she’d never be able to.
Dani with Diane
Still, the couple knew that they’d discovered her for a reason.
“It made me cry just to read how she had been kept and the conditions that she had been found in,” Diane said.
And so they brought her home—and even through seven or eight tantrums a day, the daunting task of teaching her how to portion-control her food, and the emotional battle of trying to connect, they forged on.
Dani with her new brother William
It took years, but eventually she started to warm up bit by bit. In 2011, she was profiled by the Tampa Bay Times—and while she was still struggling with speaking and connecting with others, she had started to develop a bond with adoptive dad Bernie. By 2017, she was living in a group home to better accommodate her needs, but Bernie would still come by and celebrate her birthday with her and go on walks.
She still doesn’t speak often, but her adoptive parents have been incredibly proud of her for all of the progress that she has been able to make. After having virtually no life skills at nearly the age of 7, she learned to use the bathroom, brush her own teeth, and even say a few words; while she still struggles with emotional attachment, she’s discovered that she loves the outdoors.
”She has already surpassed all the expectations the specialists had for her at the time she was found,” explained Diane, speaking to CBN in 2012.
Dani’s story remains immensely difficult. But for a child who was found in unthinkable conditions, her life has been completely turned around—all because a kindhearted couple insisted that she belonged with them.