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17 April 2024

16-year-old girl found dead weighed 56 pounds


A 16-year-old girl found dead last week in her central Iowa home weighed just 56 pounds and was severely malnourished, investigators said Thursday.

Perry Police Chief Eric Vaughn said at a news conference that Sabrina Ray was found dead inside the residence Friday evening after a 911 call was placed from the home. Vaughn said the girl’s adoptive parents, Marc Ray, 41, and Misty Ray, 40, weren’t home when the call was placed, but arrived around the same time as the rescue crews.

“The parents were out of state and returned a couple of days later,” Vaughn said. He declined to divulge where they had been, saying investigators have not been able to verify that information.

Both parents were arrested and each charged with child endangerment resulting in death and seven other child endangerment and negligence counts. Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation Assistant Director Mitch Mortvedt said other charges could be filed or current charges upgraded to more serious counts depending on the final autopsy results. The Rays also ran an in-home child care, and police are investigating whether any abuse occurred with those children, officials said.

Authorities had previously revealed that Sabrina Ray was homeschooled and that she and her siblings had been monitored by the Iowa Department of Human Services following complaints about inadequate nutrition and the use of corporal punishment.

The Rays were being held on $1 million bail each and could not be reached for comment. Each is to be represented by the state Public Defender’s Office, but online court records did not reveal the name of their attorneys Thursday.

Three other children were removed from the home, including two girls — ages 10 and 12 — who were also adopted and are now under a doctor’s care, Vaughn said. Police would not reveal their medical conditions or why they were being treated by a doctor.

The third child is a boy. Police did not reveal his age, but noted the Rays don’t currently face charges concerning him.

Vaughn said initial autopsy reports showed Sabrina Ray was severely malnourished. He declined to comment on whether the autopsy concluded that malnutrition caused her death, saying he was waiting for the final autopsy results.

Sabrina Ray’s death has drawn comparisons the October starvation death of 16-year-old Natalie Finn, of West Des Moines. Like Sabrina, Natalie Finn went through the state’s foster care and adoption system. Her parents, Nicole Finn and Joseph Finn II, are charged in her death and the suspected abuse of two of Natalie’s siblings. Both have pleaded not guilty.

On Thursday, some Iowa lawmakers called for legislative oversight of Iowa’s DHS in the wake of Sabrina Ray’s death. At least one, Rep. Abby Finkenauer, called for the immediate resignation of DHS Director Chuck Palmer.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann and Sen. Mike Breitbach, co-chairmen of the Joint Government Oversight Committee, said in a written release that the girl’s death “confirms the need for legislative oversight into the management of the DHS as it appears that the Finn case was not an isolated incident.”

The agency welcomes an opportunity to share information with legislators on the oversight committee, a DHS spokeswoman said, noting the agency has also enlisted an outside expert to review its system. She also took issue with some lawmakers’ characterization of the agency’s role.

“To make this about politics instead of moving forward with improved policies or practices does not change the fact that children’s lives have been lost or forever changed at the hands of their abuser who was responsible for their care,” DHS spokeswoman Amy McCoy said.