[Update Dec 8, 3:25pm]: Updates throughout. News reports are now saying Phoebe died last night at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics.
The girl, known as Phoebe, was brought to the Capital Institute of Pediatrics on November 24. She stopped breathing on her own around 7pm Sunday night and passed away at 8. Suffering from an intestinal obstruction and kidney problems that began some time in September, this was her third trip to the hospital since the injury.
Volunteer caregivers who have assisted Ray Wigdal, identified as the American foster father of the girl and 10 other Chinese children ranging from two months to 17 years old, told reporters that her injuries were the result of a bicycling accident; however authorities suspect the girl’s injuries may have been inflicted by Widgal, as Chinese media reports claim that the girl told the hospital staff she had been hit by him.
Wigdal is reported to have been in China for over 30 years, speaks Chinese fluently, and has been raising orphans from infancy since at least 2004, with most of the children abandoned by their natural parents because of birth defects such as cleft palate.
Wigdal’s whereabouts remain unknown and he did not visit Phoebe since her admittance November 24. Volunteers said he was informed immediately about her death, but none would reveal how he knew or who told him, nor what his reaction to her death was.
News reports say a Chinese elderly volunteer, identified as "Granny Guo," 76, helped Wigdal take care of his foster kids. She said that Phoebe was adopted by Ray in 2006, but since she was not there when Phoebe first arrived, she had no idea how he ended up with Widgal. Like Wigdal’s other adopted kids, Phoebe did not have a Chinese name and no one knows who her biological parents are.
Among the 11 adopted kids, Phoebe impressed Mrs. Guo.
“She was the smartest and the best behaved,” Guo told The Mirror. “Except for one child, who is autistic, all the other kids are very smart — but Phoebe was surely the smartest.”
Guo said Phoebe loved jigsaw puzzles and the Rubik’s Cube. “Often it took her just a few moves [to finish a Rubik’s Cube], “ Guo told reporters.
Guo also told reporters that Phoebe was the best behaved of the 11. She loved grapes but she never rushed to grab too much for herself when the kids were sharing a snack. She was always satisfied with whatever she got. Every time the kids fought or played pranks on each other, Phoebe never joined them. She always simply sat there, watching and laughing.
Reports from 163.com last night state that Wigdal was interviewed by police on Sunday. Beijing Police released no further information on the matter, including whether or not they had detained him.
Chinese media reports have gone sensational with headlines that have presumed Widgal’s guilt, such as 163.com’s use of the headline "Chinese Girl Tortured by Foreigner Stops Breathing (被老外虐待中国养女停止呼吸)".
However, Granny Guo was quoted as saying that Phoebe’s initial injury, which doctors say came from blunt external force, dated from September, a time when Wigdal was in the US – and therefore it was impossible for him to have caused her injuries.
A woman identified as Ms. Zhang, one of the volunteers, said that Wigdal had "almost collapsed," although it is unclear whether this occurred before or after his meeting with the police. "He said that raising children is a part of his life and he can’t believe the situation has developed into this," Zhang told The Mirror Chinese newspaper.
The report also says Wigdal called the children via one of the volunteers Sunday night, saying, "No matter where you are, I’m still the boss."
The other 10 children were taken into protective custody by Beijing authorities and children protection staff on Friday, December 5, with reports coming from a trusted American source familiar with the case saying "the kids were safe and treated kindly and with great patience and compassion."
It remains unclear whether Wigdal has legally adopted any of the children. "Granny Guo" told reporters that she is not aware of Wigdal processing any proper paperwork for fostering or adopting the children.
However, one report added that since most of the children Widgal has been caring for were abandoned due to birth defects, they lack any formal Chinese paperwork such as birth certificates or IDs that would be necessary for proper registration.
Police said they planned to use DNA testing to attempt to establish the children’s identities.
Authorities have stated that in order for Wigdal to claim any of them from protective custody, Wigdal will have to prove that he is their legal adoptive parent.
For updates on this developing story kindly click here.
Photo: The Mirror via theBeijinger
Additional reporting/translation by Patrick Li