TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) — After news of the tragic rape and murder of a 5-year-old Topeka girl reached the Kansas Statehouse, lawmakers are pressing leaders of the state’s child welfare department for answers.
KSN News spoke with neighbors where the victim lived who say the state is not doing enough. They are frustrated that it even had to get to this point. It’s the same sentiment lawmakers gave at the Statehouse. They want to know what is the state doing to prevent something like this from happening again. On Wednesday, lawmakers attended a closed-session meeting with Kansas Department For Children and Families, where they asked for answers.
Neighbor Shaniqua Bradley said Zoey Felix was a vibrant child who used to wander her southeast Topeka neighborhood.
“It was, like, ‘Hey mom, hey mom,’ and I was, like, ‘Well, hey baby, what’s going on?,'” Bradley said. “She was just the sunshine and the rain really.”
Bradley said Felix used to come over to her house often asking for food and water, other times just to play with the other neighborhood kids.
“We would clean her up and comb her hair, whatever needed to be done,” Bradley said.
Neighbors say Felix’s mother kicked her out of their home, along with her teenage sister and father. They say the family was living in a homeless camp where the child was raped and murdered.
“Zoey did not deserve to be in anybody’s woods,” neighbor Sharon Williams said. “This is her home right here. She has one, two, three, four, five people that would do anything for her.”
Investigators say the man arrested knew the child but, as of Wednesday afternoon, did not disclose the details of that relationship.
Meanwhile, neighbors are speaking out about the time leading up to Felix’s death, including what they say were countless complaints to DCF. In the weeks leading up to her death, neighbors say there was no running water and that she would often roam the neighborhood streets unsupervised.
“It was always ‘Can I stay? Can I stay?,'” Bradley said. “Normally when a kid is persistent about staying like that, something’s going on at home.”
“I just reported the neglect that was going on,” Williams said. “She’s always dirty, no food unless some of us fed her, but they didn’t obviously take it serious.”
Kansas lawmakers are also frustrated. They say DCF needs to do more.
“We have to do more,” Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Wichita, said. “This is unacceptable.”
“We really need a deep dive on why is the system failing,” Sen. Molly Baumgardner, Louisburg, said.
Child welfare leaders say they are not able to comment publicly on the issue entering a closed meeting with lawmakers Wednesday.
“I actually do not have the legal ability to say anything in a public setting until certain additional things happen in making a finding of abuse or neglect,” DCF Secretary Laura Howard said.
Governor Laura Kelly has not commented on this situation.
KSNT saw Felix’s mother outside of her home Wednesday morning. She declined to be interviewed but said an investigation is underway. KSN News has submitted an open records request to get more details on what actions DCF did or didn’t take and what led up to Felix’s death.