Unnamed Nine-Year-Old Girl with Cerebral Palsy

WPRI Eyewitness News | January 14, 2019



  • A nine-year-old girl with cerebral palsy was found dead in a bathtub in her home (1).

  • “Her adoptive mother, Michele Rothgeb was arrested Sunday” (1).

  • “The report said Rothgeb was caring for the eight special-needs children she had adopted” (2).

  • “The report said Rothgeb was caring for the eight special-needs children she had adopted” (2).

  • “She told detectives she had to be "hands off" with them because she was suffering from the flu and some of the kids had compromised immune systems” (2).

  • “On Jan. 3, the 9-year-old victim, who had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, was placed into a bathtub at 8:30 a.m. by Rothgeb's 15-year-old grandson after he found her crawling in the hallway covered in vomit. Rothgeb told police the 15-year-old has Asperger's syndrome” (2).

  • “After he cleaned her off, the grandson then put "2-3 inches of water in the bathtub to let her play which is something she typically did," according to the police report. More than three hours later, the girl was given a "sippy cup" for nourishment” (2).

  • “At 4:30 p.m. that day, eight hours after being placed in the tub, police said the girl was found "lying face down naked" in the tub unresponsive, which was empty because water had slowly drained out” (2).

  • Upon arrival at the hospital, the nine-year-old girl’s body temperature was 87.7 F (2).

  • “Officers found what they say were deplorable conditions, with human waste and trash throughout the home” (1).

  • “According to a police report, the home was in squalid condition, with the stench of urine and feces throughout the home” (2).

  • “‘There was a pile of soiled diapers on the floor that had a stench of urine and feces,’ McGaffigan wrote. ‘Detectives observed there to be bugs on the ceiling. The second bed had netting around it, and it was soiled with what appeared to be animal droppings’” (2).

  • “The house was so jammed with refuse that the girl could not use her wheelchair so it ‘was stored in a van outside,’ police said” (2).



  • January 14, 2019: “Police confirmed in the post that they are treating it as a death investigation, not a murder” (3).

  • January 14, 2019; updated January 15, 2019: “That guardian, Michele Rothgeb, 55, was arraigned Monday on one charge of cruelty to or neglect of a child, and ordered held on $25,000 bail with surety. Rothgeb did not enter a plea. A judge ordered her to stay away from any children that were in her care” (2).

  • January 14, 2019; updated January 15, 2019: “Police, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and the attorney general's office launched an investigation after the child's death” (2).

  • January 16, 2019: “Piccola [director of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families] confirmed that DCYF staff visited the home in January 2018 and again over the summer. During those visits, the family refused to give social workers access to the second floor. It appears the issue was neither escalated, nor investigated further” (1).

  • January 16, 2019: “Four state employees are under investigation in the girls' death. One was placed on administrative leave and the three others were put on restricted duty” (1).



Our goal with this case is to make sure that Michele Rothgeb’s crimes are not treated as lesser crimes than they are because her children had disabilities. Save Down Syndrome founder and president, Kaitlin Pepper, is sending a letter to the Warwick Rhode Island Police Department. The letter will express our goal. When the letter is sent, this page will be updated.



Share the nine-year-old girl’s story on social media. Make sure people are aware of what happened. Hopefully, if enough people share stories like these, people like Michele Rothgeb will realize they could be the next one to be arrested and charged for their crimes. If not, at least more people will know what happened, and the nine-year-old girl will not be posthumously forgotten.



  1. KWQC. (2019, January 16). Woman in Rhode Island arrested after 9-year-old dies in "unacceptable" conditions. Retrieved from https://www.kwqc.com/content/news/Woman-in-Rhode-Island-arrested-after-9-year-old-dies-in-unacceptable-conditions-504440042.html

  2. Krause, N., White, T., & Halperin, E. (2019, January 15). Police arrest guardian in death of 9-year-old Warwick girl. Retrieved from https://www.wpri.com/news/local-news/west-bay/arrest-made-in-death-of-9-year-old-warwick-girl/1701083987

  3. Dempsey, G. (2019, January 14). Guardian Charged With Death Of 9-Year-Old Girl. Retrieved from https://patch.com/rhode-island/cranston/guardian-charged-death-9-year-old-girl