MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The mother of a 3-year-old West Virginia girl who vanished without a trace in September 2011 won't regain custody of her other six children when she gets out of prison later this month.
The state Supreme Court this week unanimously upheld a Lewis County judge's order terminating Lena Lunsford's parental rights -- a decision backed by child welfare workers and the unidentified father of one of the children.
Neither his attorney nor two of Lunsford's lawyers returned telephone messages seeking comment on the ruling, which identifies Lunsford and missing daughter Aliayah only by initials, but with unmistakable dates and details.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons website shows Lena Lunsford is set to be released Feb. 26 from a facility in Baltimore, where she's been serving an eight-month sentence for welfare fraud.
The high court's ruling notes that the Lewis County court also terminated the parental rights of Ralph Lunsford, whom one of Lena's attorneys previously had described as Aliayah's stepfather. While Ralph Lunsford is identified as the father of "most" of Lena's children, the ruling says one, identified only as T.C., was fathered by another man.
The state Department of Health and Human Resources filed an abuse and neglect petition with the courts in October 2011, alleging that the Lunsfords' remaining children were in imminent danger. They had been neglected to the point that some had irreversible tooth decay, case workers said.
That complaint also noted that Lena Lunsford previously had reported to the DHHR that her husband had attempted to cut her throat, "yet she and the children continued to live with him."
At a termination hearing in May 2012, the circuit court judge "found that the parents had more knowledge about A.L.'s whereabouts than they revealed but refused to provide that information to the court," the high court wrote.
Lena Lunsford fought for her children, arguing that "evidence was not clear and convincing that she harmed or threatened her children's well-being," and that she appropriately notified police when she couldn't find her daughter.
However, the Supreme Court cited witnesses who said Lena Lunsford gave conflicting statements about Aliayah's disappearance and noted that she and Ralph Lunsford have "vaguely accused" each other in the 16 months since.