Engstrom Girl

Victim of Attachment Therapy Parenting
Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Rescued, 16 January 2007

Note: The following account has been prepared from press reports, personal interviews, trial transcripts, and other public records.

Beth Redmann had been shut out of her 13-year-old granddaughter's life for two years when on December 20, 2006, she determined she must try to contact the girl to see if she was well. She barged her way into the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home of Clint and Lynn Engstrom and yelled out for the girl who was being kept imprisoned in an attic room in appalling conditions.   Two police officers called to the Engstrom home did nothing to help the girl at that time.  The Engstroms took out a temporary restraining order against Redmann, and Redman was issued a $280 ticket for disorderly conduct.

But just three weeks later, the police took custody of the child when her father and step-mother  brought her to a local hospital. The girl was hallucinating, pulling out her hair, and scratching her skin.  Nonetheless, the police described the girl as intelligent and strong; she managed to relate how her parents had been torturing her for the last two years.

On Jan. 16, 2007, Clint Engstrom, 32, and Lynn Engstrom, 35. were each charged in Winnebago County Circuit Court with causing mental harm to a child, a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 12 years six months in prison and a $25,000 fine.

The parents admitted to keeping the girl in a nearly bare attic room for 22 hours a day.  The room was furnished only with a bed and an empty dresser.  A video camera allowed the parents to see that she complied with the order to do sit still on her urine-soaked mattress day and night. The girl also had a blanket, pillow, and a space heater controlled from outside the room. The door to the room was equipped with an outside dead-bolt lock and alarm. The window was covered with a towel and the only light came from a bare bulb that the girl could not turn off.  The girl was not allowed to read, and was often cold.

Clint and Lynn Engstrom The Parents
Clint and Lynn Engstrom

[Photo: Fox News]

The girl was only  allowed out of the room to do chores (e.g. pick up the feces of the family's three St. Bernard dogs), to eat (but not with her parents or three step-siblings).  She was allowed only one minute in the bathroom. The girl's diet consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or a granola bar. If she were caught sneaking food, she was denied the next two meals.

The Engstroms claim that the girl was being isolated for some unspecified bad behavior. They said the girl's psychiatrist, John Korger, ordered this treatment, and that the plan was to terminate the grounding after the girl demonstrated two days of good behavior. Korger testified that the girl had been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder and reactive attachment disorder.

The girl's attendance records at two schools (Smith Elementary and Grace Lutheran) were not released to the public because of confidentiality concerns, but she was known as a straight-A student at one school, with no disciplinary problems.

"Causing mental harm to a child" can be a difficult charge for prosecutors to prove. "We should never confuse mental harm with a medical diagnosis," Winnebago County District Attorney Christen Gossett commented. "I'm focusing on the facts. The child was confined in a sensory-deprived environment for an extended amount of time and people in general are shocked at what happened. And if it shocks an entire state or nation, I think we're on the right track."

What also shocked the outraged community was the deal the prosecution made with the Engstroms.  The parents entered "no contest pleas" and "deferred adjudication agreements" were set up.  The Engstroms would receive no jail time if they agreed never to try to regain custody of the girl.  With "causing mental harm" difficult to prove in a court of law, prosecutors felts this deal insured the best outcome for the girl.

No doubt the girl agrees.  She now lives with her grandmother.