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'This is a tragedy': Criminal complaint reveals horrific conditions that lead to death of 13-year-old disabled girl

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Brianna Gussert Photo from Greg Gussert via GoFundMe / Washington Post2 / 3
Nicole Gussert, Courtesy: Appleton Police Department3 / 3

APPLETON, Wis.—The death certificate of 13-year-old Brianna Gussert only begins to explain the tragedy surrounding her cruel and unusual death.

Greg Gussert, Brianna's father, said the death certificate lists her daughter's estimated date of death as May 24, 2017. It wouldn't be until five days later, on May 29, however, that Briann's death would be reported to local police.

Brianna, who was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, was entirely dependent on others to take care of her. Her condition, Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, affects multiple parts of the body and can cause delayed growth and development, intellectual disability and seizures.

Nicole Gussert, 37, was Brianna's mother and primary caretaker.

On Monday, June 11, Nicole Gussert was charged with one count of child neglect resulting in death, among other charges, the Post Crescent reports. The child neglect charge carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in the state prison system. On Monday, she was held on $300,000 cash bond.

The details surrounding Brianna's death are cruel.

A police officer who responded to Nicole Gussert's home on May 29, 2017, found Brianna curled up in an upstairs bedroom with her head toward the foot of her bed, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday, June 11, against the girl's mother. Her diaper was found overfilled and her appearance was "consistent with that of someone who had not been well cared for."

According to District Attorney Melinda Tempelis, Nicole Gussert of Appleton couldn't remember the last time she had fed Brianna or changed her diaper. The 13-year-old had also not been bathed in more than a week and her diaper weighed 1.25 pounds, Tempelis added.

Brianna's cause of death was primarily of sepsis, authorities determined. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's response to infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs.

When police first made contact with the girl, the bag for her feeding tube was nearly empty. Police also found six boxes of formula on the front porch of the home.

The mother's house was in disarray, according to the criminal complaint. 

The police officer who found Brianna dead in her bedroom described "a smell in the air of rotten food, human waste and death" inside the home. 

There were fruit flies in the air in the upstairs hallway, clothes piled all over and stacks of garbage and dirty dishes everywhere, according to the Post Crescent report.

Nicole Gussert told police that her daughter had not been to school "in a couple of months," and admitted the situation could have happened partly because she didn't want to get Brianna ready in the morning and it was easier to call her in as sick.

For Greg Gussert, the impending charges against his ex-wife are long overdue, he says.

"I feel like (Brianna's) story hasn't been told, and I don't want her life to be swept under the rug, forgotten," Greg Gussert told the Post Crescent.

When Brianna was born on Nov. 11, 2003, Brianna's parents were told by doctors that she would likely live for only 18 months, Greg Gussert said.

"She was just an inspiration and, you know, a real hero of mine," Greg Gussert said.

He said he had seen Brianna briefly the week before learning of her death. It was when Nicole Gussert was dropping off one of their other daughters. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, according to Greg Gussert.

"This is a tragedy," he said. "It's a child who was taken away from her father, from her sisters, from her grandparents, from teachers and friends. She was taken too soon. She was such an inspiration and a wonderful child. And happy, she was happy all the time."

Brianna was buried on Nov. 11, 2017. It would've been her 14th birthday.

Friends and family who attended her funeral were asked to wear Green Bay Packers or Milwaukee Brewers attire in her honor. She was a big fan of both Wisconsin-based teams.

At Monday's court appearance, Greg Gussert was photographed wearing a T-shirt supporting Brianna with her name on the back with a number 7 below it.

"I guess I would like people to remember her for being a child that was loved," Greg Gussert said.

Ross Torgerson

Digital Reporter for Forum Communications. Native of Moorhead, Minn. Have a question or story idea? Email me at rtorgerson@forumcomm.com. Follow me on Twitter @RossTorgerson

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