Police on June 21 discovered the desiccated bodies of two girls, aged 1 and 3, who had been abandoned on the fifth floor of a dirty apartment building in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. The girls’ mother was arrested and is being detained on potential murder charges.
The two girls had died, apparently from starvation, a month earlier, but were only found last Friday by officials wearing masks and gloves who wrapped the bodies in white sheets and carried them downstairs. Their last moments were spent banging on the apartment door, crying for food, according to a blog run by Cui Yongli, a local news reporter in Shaanxi.
Although the door to their home was decorated by a red poster that depicted two fish wishing for safety, the children lived in both unsafe and unsavory conditions. Their 22-year-old mother, surname Le, was a drug user who worked in a nightclub and popped into the apartment building about twice a month, said neighbors.
Zhang Yu, a neighbor who reportedly knew the family best, said that he had let Le borrow rice once, and ever since she would often take his cigarettes and food. The father, Li Wenbin, had been arrested for illegal drug use in February and hasn’t been seen since.
A few months prior to the discovery of the girls’ bodies, one of the neighbors, a 55-year-old woman, Shi Chunxiang, saw the 3-year-old standing shirtless at a security bureau building on a cold day when Shi herself was wrapped in sweaters. Shi said that she had offered to care for the girls, but Le had responded by giving her the household keys and vanishing for several days. The unexpected disappearance alarmed Shi so much that she returned the keys and admonished Le to be more responsible.
Other neighbors had heard the girls pounding on the door all night long, screaming and wailing for their mother. Zhang Yu, one of the neighbors, had seen the one-year-old lying on the toilet, her face covered in excrement. Yet despite all they had witnessed, none of the neighbors reported the matter to the authorities. The neighbors infrequently donated food to the girls and set up a monthly donation fund of 800 yuan ($130) but mostly left the household alone.
Chinese netizens were infuriated not only by how the parents had treated their girls but also by the indifference of those who knew about it but failed to act.
“They all knew how irresponsible the mother was,” a Guangxi netizen wrote on Weibo, “If only the neighbors had called the cops!”
Further, neighbors of the girls had tied pieces of red cloth to their apartment doors, a sign meant to ward off evil. “The neighbors are probably afraid of being haunted by the girls’ ghosts,” commented Beijing netizen Lee Yah. “They were indirectly assisting in killing two children so no wonder they needed to find ways to drive away evil.”
In recent months, China has seen a multitude of child abuse cases. A baby was rescued from a sewer pipe in May after his mother flushed him down the toilet. She later said she had secretly given birth to him in the bathroom, and that he had accidentally fallen in.
An 11-year-old girl’s head was burned with hot water and her mouth was sewn with a fishing line by her father in June, in Guizhou province. The girl had scabs all over her body from injuries inflicted by her dad and she was often starved and verbally abused.
Translation by Frank Fang and Hsin-Yi Lin. Research by Ariel Tian.