A 5-year-old Kansas girl was raped and murdered at a homeless camp in the woods after neighbors say her mother had kicked her and other family members out of their house, according to reports.
Zoey Felix was found at a gas station with life-threatening injuries on Monday, according to the Topeka Police Department. She was taken to a hospital, where she died.
Mickel W. Cherry, 25, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with murder and rape of a victim less than 14, local news outlet WBIW reported.
He was being held on a $2 million bond.
Neighbors said the suspect had at one point lived in the same house as Zoey along with her father and sister.
The neighbors claim the child’s mother kicked them all to the curb about two weeks ago, forcing them to live at a campsite about a mile away, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Zoey had a turbulent life at home, according to neighbors, who often saw the young girl running around unsupervised.
Her community worked together to help keep her bathed, clothed, and fed, neighbors said.
They said she didn’t attend school.
“Zoey did not deserve to be in anybody’s woods,” neighbor Sharon Williams told KSNT.
“This is her home right here. She has one, two, three, four, five people that would do anything for her.”
Neighbor Shaniqua Bradley said Zoey would often come by her house for something to eat while roaming the neighborhood.
“It was always ‘Can I stay? Can I stay?’” Bradley said about the little girl.
“Normally when a kid is persistent about staying like that, something’s going on at home.”
Bradley and other neighbors said they made numerous reports to the Kansas Department for Children and Families in the weeks leading up to her death, citing the deplorable living conditions in Zoey’shome — which lacked running water and was filled with feces.
But nothing was ever done, they said.
“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.”
Two or three weeks ago, Zoey’s neighbors realized she was gone, according to the Capital-Journal.
They were devastated to learn that she was killed.
“Everybody on the block took care of Zoey,” said Sheryl Tyree, who does not live in the neighborhood but spends lots of time there.
“Everybody loved Zoey, except her parents.”
Kansas state lawmakers are demanding answers from the Department of Children and Families.
“We have to do more,” Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau said.
“This is, this is unacceptable.”
“We really need a deep dive on why the system is failing,” Sen. Molly Baumgardner said.
According to court documents reviewed by the Capital-Journal, Zoey’s mother pleaded guilty in March to aggravated battery causing bodily harm with a deadly weapon to a child born in 2018.
The child was identified by the initials “Z.F.”
If a child dies as a result of abuse or neglect, DCF has seven business days to release a summary of any previous reports of abuse reviewed by the agency under the Kansas Open Records Act, according to the paper.
Topeka Police Chief Bryan Wheeles would not confirm whether authorities had any prior contact with the family or their relationship with the suspect.