"For the first seven years of her life, Danielle never saw the sun, felt the wind or tasted solid food. She was kept in a closet in a Plant City apartment, cloistered in darkness, left in a dirty diaper, fed only with a bottle. 'She was a feral child,' said Carolyn Eastman of the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay. 'We'd never seen a case like that.' "
While giving a tour of Dani's old house, 11-year-old Charlie Moulton, whose family now owns it, pauses to watch his younger brother through the same window that was Dani's only glimpse of the outside world.
Two of Bernie Lierow's favorite things are giving his daughter, Dani, kisses and hugs, even if she can't give them back. Dani, 9, is considered a feral child.
Brushing her teeth before bedtime requires help from her dad. Her brother Willie, 10, has no problem on his own, but Dani lacks the fine motor skills to handle such a simple task.
No one has any way of telling what lies behind Dani's big brown eyes and vacant stare.
Diane Lierow watches her daughter, Dani, play with bubbles, which is a part of her physical therapy. "Ever since the first day we had her in our home, she felt like she was my own child," Lierow said.
Frustration shows in Dani's body language as she moves around the speech therapy room, flailing and flinging her body into a crying fit.
"D is for Dani," said speech language pathologist Leslie Goldenberg, who works with Dani daily at school. With Goldenberg's help, Dani's crayon scribbles four Ds, and then on her own, Dani presses the crayon down and makes dots on the paper.
"It's like she knows she's leaving soon, once school gets out," said Goldenberg, who was pleasantly surprised by Dani's spontaneous act of affection.
On the half-hour drive south to horse therapy, Dani stares out of the window of her family's SUV, while Willie tries to provoke a giggle through tickling her.
Garet White, an adoptions care manager, fought for Dani's health and well-being in court because she "didn't want her to slip through the cracks." White and Dani have a bond that extends back a few years, and Dani now feels comfortable enough with White to be able to hug her.
In the blink of an eye, Dani can switch from happily building sand castles at the beach, to running around and throwing a violent fit that her parents need to calm her down from. Her moods are unpredictable and unexplainable.
When Dani was in her biological mother's house, a small, dirty pane of glass in her tiny, dingy bedroom was her only window to the world. With her dad holding her tight with love, she still enjoys peering out of the windows in her new house, where the light washes over her and bathes her in warmth.
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Photographer Melissa Lyttle of the St. Petersburg Times, founder of aphotoaday, submitted this story in the Best of Photojournalism contest hosted by the National Press Photographers Association. She was awarded Best Published Picture Story for her piece on Danielle's growth and development. View the winning photo series here. And be sure to check out the full report, which includes audio and video.