The next ‘House of Horrors’? Mom of 8 adopted special needs children jailed after young disabled girl found dead in filthy bathtub

A Rhode Island woman who adopted eight children with special needs was arrested when a 9-year-old girl in her care was reportedly found dead inside her filthy home.

Michele Rothgeb, 55, was arrested on January 13, more than a week after police responded to her Warwick home and found the girl unresponsive in the bathtub. The girl, identified as Zah-Nae Rothgeb, was later pronounced dead at the hospital, according to ABC News.

Multiple reports indicate that the 9-year-old had cerebral palsy and required the use of a wheelchair, but police reportedly said that the house was so cluttered the girl’s wheelchair could not be used inside the home. Michele’s 15-year-old grandson, who has Aspergers, told police that Zah-Nae was sick and crawling to the bathroom, according to WJAR.

The teen reportedly said he cleaned her up and placed her in the bathtub with a few inches of water. WJAR reported that police believe Zah-Nae was left there for eight hours; Michele claimed she was also sick so she had her grandson, whom she also adopted, watch the other children. Right now, it’s unclear how the 9-year-old died.

Officers who responded to the home on January 3 were allegedly overcome by the smell of urine and waste, noting soiled bedding that they believe hadn’t been changed in months.

The Department of Children, Youth, and Families announced a full investigation in light of the girl’s death.

According to the Providence Journal, social workers visited the Warwick home last January, following allegations that Michele was neglecting the eight children in her care. At the time, she allegedly refused to allow social workers to view the home’s second floor.

Despite this, Michele was allowed to formally adopt a toddler in July.

On Wednesday, DCYF was asked how the Warwick woman managed to adopt despite the January 2018 visit.

“It’s a fair question,” DCYF director Trista Piccola said. “It is something I think everyone is asking: How is it that we have a group of very well-intended, intelligent, caring [DCYF] people who at this point seemed to have made a series of unreasonable decisions, in my estimation.”

Piccola said a social worker visited the home the month of the adoption and that the home was in satisfactory condition. She also explained that DCYF doesn’t follow up once an adoption is complete, according to the Cranston Patch.

The Journal reported that one social worker is on administrative leave while three others are on limited duty following Zah-Nae’s death.

Michele is currently charged with cruelty or neglect of a child. During Monday’s hearing, the judge said he would be “surprised” if prosecutors don’t upgrade the charges to murder before setting her bail at $25,000.

The remaining children were removed from the home the night Zah-Nae died and were placed in DCYF’s custody.


[Featured image: Michele Rothgeb/Warwick Police Department]