DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. - Olivia Gant gained national attention in 2017 as the sweet-faced 7-year-old was granted her dying wishes of being an honorary Denver police officer and a firefighter before succumbing to what her mother said was a lifelong battle with multiple rare diseases.
Authorities now allege that Kelly Renee Turner faked all her daughter’s medical conditions, forcing the girl to suffer while raking in thousands of dollars in donations from charities and bilking Medicaid for her daughter’s unnecessary medical care.
Turner, 41, is accused of killing Olivia and lying to doctors about a cancer diagnosis involving an older daughter, who is now 11. KUSA in Denver reported that Olivia was one of Turner’s three daughters.
According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, a grand jury on Thursday handed down a 13-count indictment against the mother, who apparently began documenting the alleged medical problems of two of her girls as far back as August 2011, when the family was living in Texas.
KUSA reported that at that time, Olivia was 13 months old. The older daughter was 3 and Turner’s oldest daughter, whom she never claimed to be ill, was 11.
The charges against Turner include two counts of first-degree murder, child abuse, three counts of charitable fraud, three counts of theft, two counts of attempt to influence a public servant and two counts of second-degree forgery.
Turner was arrested Friday morning at a hotel in Glendale, sheriff’s office officials said in a news release. She is being held without bond in the Douglas County Jail.
A reporter with KUSA went to the Highlands Ranch home where Turner was living with her parents prior to her arrest. The news station said a man who answered the door did not identify himself.
“No comment,” the man told the reporter. “Get off our property. We’re going through enough.”
The Associated Press reported that no one questioned Olivia’s death or her mother’s actions until last year, when Turner took her middle daughter to Children’s Hospital Colorado, where Olivia had also been a patient, for complaints of “bone pain.”
It was also last year that the older girl’s primary care doctor retired, and she started seeing a new one, KUSA reported based on court documents. That doctor grew suspicious after Turner claimed her daughter had undergone three years of cancer treatments prior to the family’s move to Colorado in 2013.
The doctor called his counterparts in Texas and learned there had never been a cancer diagnosis.
During an initial investigation by Department of Human Services caseworkers in Jefferson County, where the family lived at the time, the workers learned about Olivia’s Aug. 20, 2017, death. The investigation moved to Douglas County after Turner and her surviving children did the same, court records indicate.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigators interviewed the then-10-year-old daughter at her school on Oct. 11, 2018, which presumably alerted Turner to their suspicions, KUSA reported. The AP reported that Turner was also separated from her daughter during the investigation.
According to the court documents obtained by KUSA and other media outlets, the girl “has not had any additional medical problems or complaints of pain since” that day.
Turner eventually admitted that she fabricated the girl’s cancer diagnoses, but maintained that Olivia’s medical issues were real, the indictment in the case says.
‘Our precious Olivia’
Local and national news stories from 2017, just prior to Olivia’s death, painted a portrait of Turner as a doting mother who, when her daughter’s life expectancy became a matter of months instead of years, began helping the girl cross items off her bucket list. In April of that year, Olivia was granted the wish of becoming a Denver police officer for a day.
Turner, who was then going by her married name of Kelly Gant, told ABC News that Olivia grew to love the first responders who would come to her aid when she had to call 911, which was often. Becoming an officer was one of the items on the girl’s list of dying wishes.
Footage from the Denver Police Department showed Olivia holding up her crooked and misspelled list, which also included being a fireman, riding a balloon, feeding sharks and going to an American Doll store.
“That’s a day she’ll never forget,” Turner, who lived in Littleton at the time, told ABC News of her daughter’s day with the police. “It was little things to them (the police officers) that meant a lifetime to her. We don’t know how long we have with her. They have no idea the impact they’ve had on our family or our Olivia.”
Denver police Cpl. Tim Scudder was later honored by the department for taking the time to give Olivia her wish, which the news network reported included a tour of the police station and being sworn in as chief.
“One of her wish lists is to ‘catch bad guys with police,’” Scudder said in video footage from the Denver Police Department, which includes images of a sunglasses-clad Olivia riding shotgun in a patrol car. “That’s what I think being a police officer is all about -- making an impact on those in the community and those around us.”
At one point, Scudder told the girl, “We got a call. We’re gonna go catch a bad guy, right?”
An ecstatic Olivia grinned as the camera rolled.
“You’re going to jail!” Olivia shouted over the siren at one point in the footage.
See Inside Edition's piece on Olivia Gant's adventures as a cop and a firefighter below.
That same spring, the Make-A-Wish Foundation helped Olivia become a firefighter for a day.
“She’s in intestinal failure, and we don’t know how much longer she has,” Turner told KUSA in a story about Olivia’s day as a firefighter.
Footage of that day shown by local and national shows, including Inside Edition, shows a fire truck pulling up outside the girl’s house.
“Look how huge it is!” Olivia exclaimed.
Later, the little girl helped firefighters extinguish a fire.
Watch KUSA's report on Olivia Gant's day as a firefighter below.
Olivia died four months after her adventures of what her mother told people were complications of a neurogastrointestinal disorder that shut down the girl’s organs, including her intestines.
“Our precious little princess will now have a new body, no tubes, no more pain or sickness and everlasting joy with our Lord,” Olivia’s obituary read. “See you in heaven, our precious Olivia.”
KUSA reported that the first entries on Turner’s blog back in 2011 described Olivia as having “a misshapen head and a vascular malformation in her brain that could cause seizures, blindness or an aneurysm.” The older girl, Turner claimed, had a bone infection in her ear and an immune deficiency.
Entries obtained by the news station showed frequent updates over the next 14 months. In that time frame, Turner claimed Olivia had seizures, celiac disease, autism, excess fluid in her brain that required a shunt for drainage and a thinning of the membrane between the lobes of her brain, KUSA reported.
The older sister, whose name is being withheld because of her age, had cancer, both in the form of tumors in her neck and around her pelvis and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Turner claimed, according to the news station.
‘High maintenance mother’
As harrowing as Olivia’s alleged medical journey appeared, the court documents in Turner’s criminal case paint a much darker portrait of what her daughter actually endured.
KUSA said the indictment alleges Olivia died after her mother withdrew both medical care and nourishment, which Olivia took in through a feeding tube, in the final weeks of the girl’s life.
Multiple doctors argued with Turner, telling her they did not believe her daughter’s condition was terminal, the news station reported. She was persuasive enough, however, to get one doctor to sign a “do not resuscitate” order.
She told doctors that her daughter’s quality of life was so poor that the “humane” thing to do was to stop all care and let her go, according to KUSA.
The indictment states that doctors who treated Olivia described Turner as a “high maintenance mother,” KMGH in Denver reported.
According to KUSA, at least five doctors at Children’s Hospital spoke with investigators about their suspicions.
BREAKING: 3/4 According to indictment obtained by @9WantsToKnow Olivia Gant’s mother, Kelly Turner, made up illnesses she may not have had, gave her medications she shouldn’t have and ultimately withdrew both care and nutrition shortly before her death. #9NEWS pic.twitter.com/ZNMMAABEkz— Kevin Vaughan (@writerkev) October 21, 2019
One doctor said she found no evidence of the seizures Turner claimed Olivia was having and warned her three times to stop giving her daughter anti-seizure medication that had harsh side effects, the court documents said. Another said he did not believe Olivia had autism as her mother claimed.
Multiple doctors described the girl in glowing terms: “Very active, interactive, social, fun to be around, always smiling and playful.”
Dr. Robert Kramer told investigators the same, saying he did not diagnose her with “any of the diseases that Turner wrote about in the GoFundMe page,” the indictment says, according to KUSA.
Kramer told detectives he was shocked to learn Turner had withdrawn her daughter’s medical care and that the girl had died.
Children's Hospital declined comment Monday to KMGH, citing the pending criminal invstigation.
Tasneem Nashrulla, a Buzzfeed News reporter who wrote about Turner’s arrest, tweeted Tuesday that GoFundMe officials told her they were refunding the more than $22,000 people had donated to Turner for Olivia’s care through a page on the fundraising site. The page has since been removed.
GoFundMe tells @BuzzFeedNews that they're refunding donors who contributed more than $22,000 to Kelly Turner, a mother who faked her 7-year-old daughter's "terminal illness" and has now been charged with first degree murder in her daughter's death. https://t.co/AshBWf4VHC— Tasneem N (@TasneemN) October 22, 2019
‘In a position of trust’
Olivia’s death was attributed in 2017 to intestinal failure.
Investigators looking into Olivia’s case had her body exhumed in November, however, and Dr. Kelly Lear, the Arapahoe County coroner, found no signs of intestinal failure or any of the other conditions Turner had claimed her daughter suffered from.
Lear could not pinpoint the exact cause of Olivia’s death and ruled it to be undetermined.
KUSA gave a detailed rundown of the allegations against Turner. One of the murder counts alleges that she killed Olivia “while in a position of trust” and the second, that she killed the girl with deliberation.
The child abuse charge pertains to her other daughter, who the indictment said was “unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury.” The charitable fraud charges allege that Turner “devised or executed a scheme” to gain money, property or services by false pretense.
The theft allegations involve the $22,700 she obtained through GoFundMe, along with nearly $539,000 she is accused of defrauding from Medicaid and/or HealthFirst Colorado, which is the state’s Medicaid program. Both of her daughters were covered by Medicaid, according to the court records.
The theft charges also cover more than $11,000 from the Make-A-Wish Foundation for what the documents describe as a “Bat Princess” party they threw for Olivia, as well as $3,000 from Professional Miracles Foundation, a Denver-based group that helps improve the lives of children with serious or life-threatening medical conditions.
Turner is also accused of failing to pay Heflebower Funeral Home and Seven Stones Cemetery for more than $5,000 related to her daughter’s funeral.
Mike Heflebower, owner of the funeral home, told KUSA that the situation was a difficult one for all parties involved.
Rebecca Holm, the director of customer care at Seven Stones, was more blunt in her statement to the news station.
“Us being a victim of theft is so minor compared to what happened to her daughter that it’s irrelevant,” Holm said.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation Colorado also released a statement.
“We are deeply disturbed by the allegations in this case and intend to follow it closely in the hope of learning exactly what happened,” the statement read. “Our procedures for granting a wish require a referral from the child’s medical team, and we rely on their assessment.
“As we seek to learn more about the circumstances that led to Olivia’s death, we fondly remember her spirit and hope that granting her wish brought some joy to her tragic life.”
The two counts of attempting to influence a public service, as well as the forgery charges, are related to Turner’s application for benefits, including Medicaid, that she filed in July 2013, after she and her children moved to Colorado without their father, Jeff Gant.
KUSA reported that court documents show Turner claimed Gant was unemployed and an “absent parent.”
Gant told detectives, however, that he was employed and had health insurance that would have covered the children, the news station said. He said he also provided Turner $900 a week in living expenses for her and the kids.
Gant, who is divorcing Turner, told investigators his estranged wife asked him to remove the children from his health insurance a short time after they arrived in Colorado because she claimed she could get coverage cheaper through the hospital.
Bank records “corroborated Jeff’s account of his deposits and withdrawals,” the affidavit said.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy
The AP reported that authorities interviewed Turner during their investigation into Olivia’s death. At that time, she spontaneously brought up the topic of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Munchausen syndrome, also known as factitious disorder, is a mental illness in which a person fakes being sick, either physically or mentally, in order to fulfill an “inner need” to be seen as ill, which brings with it sympathy and concern from others.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy, or factitious disorder imposed on another, is when a person acts as though another person, a “proxy,” is ill. The Cleveland Clinic’s website states that the condition is considered a form of abuse by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.
The target of the abuse is most often a child under the age of 6, the clinic’s website says.
“It is not done to achieve a concrete benefit, such as financial gain,” the webpage on the disorder states. “People with FDIA are even willing to have the child or patient undergo painful or risky tests and operations in order to get the sympathy and special attention given to people who are truly ill and their families.
“Factitious disorders are considered mental illnesses because they are associated with severe emotional difficulties.”
According to KMGH, the Department of Human Services caseworkers who investigated Turner's case expressed concern in their report about her behavior involving her daughters.
“There is a concern that (Turner) may have been benefiting from this attention and motivated some of the medical treatment (she) sought for both (name redacted) and (name redacted),” the report said, according to the indictment. “There is a concern that (Turner) has lied about the children’s medical conditions and therefore may have caused harm to the children and or caused them to have significant medical procedures.”
The caseworkers wrote in their report that Turner “reported several conditions and procedures that never happened,” including her older daughter’s supposed treatment for lymphoma, KMGH said.
When Turner introduced the idea of Munchausen syndrome by proxy during her interview with detectives, she denied the disorder.
“That has never been my case, like at all, whatsoever,” Turner said, according to the AP.
The indictment indicates she also told detectives she would not be talking to them if she had anything to hide.
The most recent high-profile case involving possible Munchausen by proxy involved Clauddinnea “Dee Dee” Blanchard and her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard.
Dee Dee Blanchard, a native of south Louisiana who evacuated herself and her daughter to Springfield, Missouri, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, spent the majority of her daughter’s life claiming Gypsy had a variety of ailments, including cancer, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and mental impairments.
Blanchard’s lies were blown apart in June 2015 when Gypsy, then 23, and her secret boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, 26, were arrested and charged with murder in the brutal stabbing death of Blanchard in the Habitat for Humanity home the mother and daughter had been gifted.
Greene County investigators told a shocked community, who had rallied around the family in the decade they lived in Springfield, that not only was Gypsy -- who acquaintances believed was wheelchair-bound -- completely healthy, she could also walk.
The subsequent investigation found that Dee Dee Blanchard had spent decades fooling doctors, reporters, charities, friends and family, including Gypsy’s father, into believing the girl was sick. Though Gypsy knew she could walk, she has said in media interviews that she believed her mother when she told her she was ill.
Blanchard had painful procedures performed on her daughter, including the insertion of a feeding tube into her stomach, despite Gypsy’s ability to eat on her own, and the removal of teeth which deteriorated from needless medications she was given.
Gypsy Blanchard, who has said she is now perfectly healthy, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for her role in her mother’s death. Godejohn, who stabbed Dee Dee Blanchard to death as Gypsy Blanchard hid in the bathroom of their home, is serving life in prison.
People magazine reported in July that Gypsy Blanchard is engaged to a man who began writing to her after seeing an HBO documentary on her case, titled “Mommy Dead and Dearest.” The case has also been depicted in a Lifetime movie, as well as “The Act,” a Hulu miniseries that won actress Patricia Arquette an Emmy for her role as Dee Dee Blanchard.
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