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DFCS responds to case of starved teenager | News

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DFCS responds to case of starved teenager

COBB COUNTY, Ga. -- 11Alive News has obtained files from the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services that show caseworkers were showing concern several years before a 16-year-old girl died of starvation.

Authorities received a 911 call from the mother of Markea Berry saying the teen was unresponsive.  Detectives determined she was starved to death and arrested her mother, Ebony Berry, for murder.

According to the autopsy, Markea weighed just 43 pounds.

Dr. Chung's "Wonderfully Hungry" 

On Tuesday, 11Alive undercovered another fold in the case against Ebony Berry. After going through Berry's visitation logs at the Cobb County Jail -- 11Alive learned that Berry had been visited by Dr. Andrew Chung, a local cardiologist. 

Dr. Chung, the author of 'Be Hungry' had been a visitor of Berry's twice while she was incarcerated. The Emory University trained cardiologist teaches from a theory he created, called "Wonderfully Hungry." 

Chung tells his followers not to eat more than two pounds of food per day; he thinks people should always feel hungry. Visits to Chung's home and practice were inconclusive -- however, authorities have been in contact with him. 

When informed of the case against Berry, Chung said "when a parent chooses to neglect a child you've got to think about what the reasons were." 

DFACS involvement 

The DFCS files show caseworkers had ongoing contact with the family beginning in 2009.  One described Markea as "extremely thin." In another entry the caseworker was "very concerned" that Markea was "not being fed."

An investigation was launched, but later fizzled because Ebony Berry was "uncooperative" and "combative with the case worker."

In 2010, Markea ran away.  An Amber Alert was issued. Authorities later found the girl, then 14, at a nearby Walmart. She told investigators she often went there to "sleep overnight" sometimes on a shelf concealed by packages of paper towels and sometimes outside under shopping carts. She told investigators she'd rather stay at the store than go home, because she felt she was a burden on her mother.

In fact, Ebony Better complained to investigators that her daughter was developmentally delayed, difficult and when they were in stores Markea would open food and eat it.

Officials at DFCS would not go on camera, but gave us a response in writing saying in part:

"DFCS case mangers had contact with the family in 2010 and could see that the girl was in need of a doctor and instructed the mother to take the girl to see a doctor. The case was closed without any follow up from DFCS to see if the child was seen by a doctor."

They say they are currently developing an entirely new statewide safety response model as to how they identify and deal with at risk children.

The president of Georgia Alliance for Children, Rick McDevitt, called the incident tragic but also said he was not surprised.

"Back in February we saw statistics that more kids are dying in DFCS custody.  Everytime something like this happens the promise to make changes, but children keep dying," said McDevitt.

It was after Markea's death that more disturbing details emerged about her home life.  While other children in the home appeared to be cared for, Markea would routinely be locked in her bedroom..left with "pee pads and a urinal" at night. According to her mother, it was to "keep people out of her room."

After Markea's death, Georgia DFCS contacted the city where the state where the family lived previously, Michigan, and found similar documentation.

Caseworkers there suspected Ebony Berry of child abuse noting that as punishment she put one of her children in a tub of freezing water after they wet the bed.

In fact, Ebony Berry told investigators she moved from Michigan because "people were always calling DFCS."

"Someone needs to be held accountable.  This is an agency that is supposed to protect children who are stuck in bad situations.  Someone failed to do their job.  Someone needs to be indicted or at the very least, fired," said McDevitt.

DFCS said the caseworker initially assigned to the Berry family left the agency about a year ago.  The supervisor involved still works for DFCS.