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Twin Girls Cling to Life as Mother Faces New Charges

Children: Woman is accused of attempted murder and torture in case of 5-year-olds weighing less than 20 pounds.

September 18, 1996|MARK ARAX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FRESNO — Five-year-old twin sisters ravaged by starvation continued to fight for their lives Tuesday as Stanislaus County authorities filed charges of torture and attempted murder against their mother.

Tanya Kaye Walker, 26, a mother of five, was being held on six felony counts, including torture, attempted murder and child endangerment, after police found her twin daughters emaciated and near death Sunday night at their home in Ceres.

Brittany and Breanne Kinn, suffering from extreme malnutrition and dehydration, were flown to Children's Hospital in Oakland, where they remained in critical condition with slight improvement.

Police in the small, tightknit farming community of Ceres, about 100 miles north of Fresno, said they were called to the house in a lower-middle-class section of town by Walker's parents. The 5-year-olds cannot walk because of cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy and must be fed with a bottle. One weighed 14 pounds, the other 19.

Unresponsive and wearing diapers, the girls were covered with bedsores, scabies and dried feces. Ants and other insects were crawling in and out of their ears and other body cavities. Two older siblings, ages 9 and 7, and a 5-month-old baby were healthy and in good condition.

"There is no way to describe what a 5-year-old child looks like who weighs 14 pounds," said Sgt. Allen McKay, head of the Ceres detective bureau. "It was basically skin stretched over bones. It was sickening. One of the more hideous sights I've ever seen."

Walker, single and unemployed, told police that she could no longer afford formula for the twins because the county had stopped paying for it. Police said she did not contact local health workers about the twins' worsening condition because she feared that her three other children might be taken away.

"Their weight and health started to decline several months ago and when it reached the point for medical help, she was afraid she would lose the others," McKay said.

Public and private health agencies and the local school district were reviewing their files Tuesday to determine if something more could have been done to protect the children. At least three local agencies had contact with Walker and the twins in the last several months.

The girls had been enrolled in a county preschool program for mentally and physically disabled children since 1992. This school year, officials said, they were informed that the family would be moving out of town. "We were notified by the family in August that they were moving away and withdrawing the girls from school," said Norman Lee, an assistant superintendent. "We had no reason not to believe them."

In the past, Walker had also called on California Children's Services, a local, state and federal program, for medical care for the twins. She last contacted the agency in May.

"She called and we authorized medical care but she never followed up to receive it," said Marilyn Backlund, an agency supervisor. "It's a very sad, sad situation and it tears me apart, but unfortunately we aren't equipped to do home visits. Our job is to see that medical care is available and paid for."

A private social service agency had seen the twins in April. Richard Jacobs, an executive director with Mountain Valley Regional centers, which receives nearly $1 billion a year from the state to help care for the disabled children and adults throughout California, said the twins appeared fine during the annual home visit.

"I'm believe something happened in the last few months that everyone missed," Jacobs said. "We and the county can't replace parental responsibility. We can't be in the home 24 hours a day."

Neighbors told police that they had not seen the twins in several months but no one thought of contacting county social workers. Authorities said that as the twin's condition worsened, Walker became more secretive. For the last three months, she allegedly refused to allow the girls' father to see them.

On Sunday, while the two older children were staying at their grandparents' house, Walker and her boyfriend left her house to pick up her 5-month-old son from the baby-sitter. While she was gone, police said, the grandparents dropped off the two older children and found the twins alone in the back bedroom. They scooped up the girls, rushed them to the hospital and called police.

Walker is being held on $50,000 bond.

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