It's a mystery police here are working to solve.
Did someone lock a Haitian 12-year-old girl in a squalid basement crawl space inside her home with only a half-box of cornflakes and a pan for a toilet, or did she do so herself?
Guirlene Dupuy, who moved from Haiti four years ago to live with a cousin, was last seen at school on May 4. School officials say the family at first did not respond to calls, but on the fourth day a worried relatives showed up, asking for help finding the girl.
On Wednesday, police suspicious of the family's story searched the row house for a third time and found the severely dehydrated child in a space underneath the basement stairs that was blocked by a heavy wood tabletop.
"I don't think an animal could live in there comfortably," Police Inspector William Colarulo said of the cramped space, which he estimated was about 4 feet high by 4 feet long by 2 feet wide.
"The officers ... were relieved to find her alive, but they were shocked and saddened that a child would be in that situation," he said.
No charges have been filed in the case. Police Capt. Len Ditchkofsky said it was possible the girl had been hiding in the closet, although another officer described the tabletop as "very heavy."
A relative said she may have been upset about a bad grade at school.
Guirlene was hospitalized for observation and was scheduled to be released Thursday to a foster family. Neither police officials nor the welfare department spokesman returned telephone messages left Friday seeking confirmation of her whereabouts.
Daniela Joseph, a young woman who said she was Guirlene's cousin, had made a tearful plea for the girl's return on WCAU-TV on Tuesday. "If somebody got her please can you send her back, please?" Joseph asked from inside the house where the girl was found.
Joseph lived in the home with her parents and her 9-year-old daughter. That girl was also expected to be placed in foster care while the investigation proceeds, officials said.
Guirlene, a 5th grader, was a good student with good attendance, school officials said.
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson lauded Detective Romanita King for her decision to search the house again after interviewing relatives for several hours Wednesday.
"She probably saved this girl's life," Johnson said.
By Maryclaire Dale