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California and the West

Children Spend 3 Days With Body

January 07, 1998|GEOFF BOUCHER and LORENZA MUNOZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LAKE FOREST — A 40-year-old accountant who failed to show up two days for work was found dead Tuesday morning in bed beside her foster children after they apparently had spent three days with the body, authorities said.

Barbara Keiper, a 19-year employee at McGaw Inc. in Irvine, was seen through her bedroom window by her worried boss and Orange County sheriff's deputies. At her side were her frightened foster daughters, ages 2 and 4, unwashed and hungry.

"The children were just scared and didn't know what to do," said Bruce Lux, Keiper's supervisor in the finance department of the medical manufacturer. "You're just hopeful that they're young enough that they overcome this."

An autopsy was underway Tuesday evening to determine the cause of Keiper's death, but foul play is not suspected, said Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Lynn Nehring. Keiper had been battling the flu and perhaps mild pneumonia throughout the holiday season, and one or both of the foster children had been sick with chickenpox, Lux said.

The girls were in good health when they were found, Nehring said. They were taken to Orangewood Home for Abused Children, where they had stayed before Keiper took them in last year, Lux and authorities said. They were the fourth and fifth children she had brought into her home, Lux said.

"She was a single person, and her family was back East, so she didn't have a network of people to help her support these kids. But she took on the challenge," said Lux, who said he was inspired in part by Keiper when he and his wife adopted a 4-year-old boy from Orangewood.

The two girls were not identified Monday, in keeping with confidentiality laws shielding the abandoned, abused or troubled youngsters taken into Orangewood emergency care. The girls were described only as being of Korean descent, and Lux worried that the latest trial in their short lives would be crushing for them.

"It's pretty traumatic just going through the system for these kids," he said.

It was not clear if the children had eaten, or exactly how long they had been in the home in the 21000 block of Flower Glen in Lake Forest, although investigators estimated that Keiper had been dead three days.

Lux said office workers last heard from Keiper when she called in sick Thursday, and the finance department was closed Friday. She was scheduled to return Monday but did not show up or call in.

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