LAKELAND, Fla. - A 14-year-old Lakeland girl is facing murder charges after authorities say she admitted to killing her newborn son and placing the body in a shoebox.
"Walked by my house hunched over like she was trying to hide something or get away with something," said Andre Williamson, a neighbor.
Williamson said it was obvious the girl was pregnant. She was often seen getting off the school bus wearing sweatshirts on days when it was 85 degrees or hotter.
"I thought the parents were just handling it in their own way," he added.
On September 19, deputies and members of the Department of Children and Families were called to Lakeland Regional Medical Center after staff members said they had treated a 14-year-old for what appeared to be a miscarriage.
The information was passed on to the Polk County Sheriff's Office Bureau of Criminal Investigations for follow-up, according to a sheriff's statement.
On Saturday, September 22, the Sheriff's Office received a call that the body of a full-term baby had been found in a shoe box at the girl's home.
The gruesome discovery was made by the girl's mother who smelled an odor while in the girl's bedroom gathering dirty laundry.
Homicide detectives went to the home and questioned the girl. She told them that she became ill the morning of September 19 and went into labor in the bathroom.
"She delivered it into the toilet," said Sheriff Grady Judd during today's news conference. "She took the baby from the toilet, checked it for a pulse and it was moving, and then she choked it to death."
She told detectives she choked the baby to "stop him from breathing." She said she then cleaned up the bathroom and then bathed herself along with the dead infant.
Authorities say the girl went to great lengths to try and hide the pregnancy by wearing baggy clothing. During labor, she told detectives she bit into a towel so she wouldn't make any noises that would alert her mother who was at home at the time.
"We talked to the mother and the mother was in absolute total denial," said Judd.
Judd said the mother had the teen take two pregnancy tests. The teen, according to Judd, took the pregnancy tests without her mother present in the bathroom. When both test came back inconclusive, Judd says the mother interpreted the results as negative.
During an autopsy, it was determined the infant was alive and breathing when he was born. The cause of death was determined to be strangulation and blunt force trauma.
ABC Action News stopped by the girl's home to get the family's side of the story.
A woman answered and told reporters to leave, and asked us to let the family grieve.
The 14-year-old girl, who ABC Action News is not identifying, is currently at a juvenile detention center facing a charge of capital murder. News of her arrest quickly spread Friday at Kathleen High School where she attended.
"A lot of people are disturbed by this, I was shocked myself to hear about it and everything. It was really shocking," said Malcolm Reid, a student who said he didn't know the girl.
Sheriff Judd said it's possible the girl's mother could also face charges for neglect. Since the girl is under 16, the father of the baby boy may also be in trouble too.
"Everybody is a loser here. But this 14-year-old child murdered her infant baby which she successfully delivered at home," Judd said.
Williamson and several other neighbors told ABC Action News the teen had a sister who got pregnant at a similar age and was kicked out of the house. It is possible the teen thought her parents would do the same to her, Williamson explained.
In 911 calls released late Friday night, a family member is heard telling a dispatcher, "She is saying she didn't know what to do but she does. She, uh, her sister got pregnant and 18 and her mother stood by her you know."
Judd said there are many questions in this case that will not likely get adequate answers. Many are questioning, could this have been prevented.
"We would have found out who supported her pregnancy and who didn't," said Mary Rutherford, executive director of Options for Women, a pregnancy health clinic located in Polk County.
Women of any age can come to the clinic and receive counseling and ultrasounds all while remaining anonymous.
A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy just has to take the initiative to come in.
Rutherford said when teens come in they urge them to tell their parents about the pregnancy because this will help the teen from doing something they might regret.
The clinic also helps counsel parents who are told of an unplanned pregnancy.
Rutherford said she did reach out to the Polk County School District in the past to put informational pamphlets in the high schools and was told no.
Polk County School District officials were not immediately able to answer whether they address teen pregnancy, if counselors at school approached the teen or if sexual education classes are offered.
Those seeking counseling regarding a pregnancy, either planned or
unplanned, can call Options for Women at 863.393.6988.
There is also a Pregnancy Option Hotline that is up and running 24 hours a day. The hotline number is 1-800-923-6784. Parents who have learned their child is pregnant can also call this number to talk to a professional who can offer assistance.
Help is also available by texting or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those with access to the internet can engage in a live chat 24 hours a day by going to pregnancyhelponline.com .