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Social worker who helped 'Girl in the window' dies

In 2005, Plant City police discovered a malnourished girl nearly 7 years old lying on a bedroom floor near a 4-foot pile of her soiled diapers crawling with cockroaches.

She could hear but not speak. A pediatric psychologist called it the "most outrageous case of child neglect" she had ever seen.

The girl, whose name is now Dani Lierow, would find a loving home. Her story, "Girl in the window," attracted international attention and a 2009 Pulitzer prize for Tampa Bay Times staff writer Lane DeGregory.

There were many milestones in the girl's recovery. One of the first — sustained human contact — came about because of a social worker who asked that the case be assigned to her.

To those who knew her, it was just the kind of thing Garet White would do. She had always taken on the toughest challenges. She had helped the homeless and battered wives, spoken up for seniors who needed an advocate and found permanent homes for children who had been abused.

White, a voice for people who needed one, died May 15. She was 44 and suffered a variety of medical problems.

A former model, she took on the name Garet on the advice of others in the business. Family and friends have always called her Peggy.

"She took responsibility for every child that was in her case load," said Lynne Klopf, 75, White's mother. "(Danielle) was the shining example. But she was far and away not the only one for whom Peggy worked to find a good home."

Margaret Klopf was born in 1969 in Evanston, Ill., an infant with icy blue eyes. Her 25-year-old unwed mother placed her for adoption.

Lynne Klopf and her husband adopted White when she was 10 weeks old. She was raised in Cleveland and graduated from private schools, but never really outgrew Sesame Street.

At age 19 she contacted her biological mother, Linda Clark, who looked like her and had many of the same mannerisms. "We were so genetically in sync," said Clark, 70.

White also learned that her biological father was one of the detectives who investigated mass murderer John Wayne Gacy in the 1970s.

For several years, White worked with the homeless and with abused domestic partners. In the meantime, a marriage resulted in her son Charlie, now 14. The marriage ended.

White was hired in 2004 as a case worker for the Children's Home Society. It was through that job in 2005 that she learned of a shocking case in Plant City. A blond girl, about 7, was functioning as a 2-year-old, having grown up in squalor and with so little human contact she couldn't talk.

White asked a judge for the case. She stayed with the girl at the hospital, fed her and changed her diapers. Later, as a case manger for Camelot Community Care, she helped place Dani in Heart Gallery Tampa Bay . That led to her adoption by Bernie and Diane Lierow in 2007.

Her health problems mounted. She had suffered through years of headaches. She had an aneurysm. She had been unable to work for several years.

White died in her sleep, her family said. The Hillsborough County medical examiner's office is awaiting results from an autopsy.

Social worker who helped 'Girl in the window' dies 05/27/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 10:16pm]
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