This is Sykora Partee, 10 years ago on the eve of her 8th birthday. She was beaten up, bruised and neglected while in the care of a great aunt.
“I was in the system since I was about one and a half,” recalls Partee.
Partee says she was taken out of her mom’s care at a young age due to an unsafe home environment. Partee says she was in foster care before she could walk. Eventually, that led her to the watchful eye of her great aunt, for what Partee said authorities thought would be a better fit.
“I got adopted when I was three by my great aunt. I was there for about five years and that’s when things just went downhill,” said Partee.
Partee recalled instances of physical abuse.
“She broke several brooms trying to spank me, or she’d just hit me or push me into stuff,” says Partee.
Partee says while living with her aunt and aunt’s family, she was forced to sleep in uncomfortable living conditions. She recalled many sleepless nights on the cold floor in a cold room.
“Sometimes they’d put me in a dog cage for a little bit while they went out for a couple of hours or something,” says Partee
Partee said the most uncomfortable condition she faced while living under her aunt’s care was the withdrawal of food. Medical records show that she was 21 pounds at age two, and 32 pounds at eight years old.
“I would go and get food from the trash or from school. Eventually I started getting home-schooled and I had to get food from the trash or find food in the in the cabinets and pantries before they started locking them. At times it came down to eating dog food or really anything I could find,” says Partee.
All of this abuse eventually landed her great aunt in prison. That was largely through the work of Davenport Police Sgt. Eric Gruenhagen, who was the officer on duty called to escort DHS to remove Sykora from her great aunt’s care.
“I saw this tiny little girl in a bathroom, and she was sitting on the floor with her knees up to her chest in this defensive protective mode, and she looked scared to death,” said Gruenhagen.
Gruenhagen says he has received plenty of domestic abuse calls during his 22 years on the force, but never anything this severe. The day Gruenhagen removed Partee from her abuser was the day before her 8th birthday and the day her life was changed for the better
A long journey to recovery
Partee remained in and out of the foster care system until she turned 18. She says it was a challenge to remain in one household. Many families became upset with her for keeping food in her room and her cleaning behaviors, two habits she says she picked up as trauma responses from living with her great aunt.
Sergeant Gruenhagen says he never thought he would see Partee again. That was until a friend at a Davenport Child Protection service reached out to sergeant Gruenhagen saying they had recently helped Partee recover all her medical and police records from her time spent living with her great aunt.
Gruenhagen reached out to Partee to have lunch with him and his wife. What started as a formal means of “catching up” at the Red Lantern in Davenport eventually turned into a lifelong support system. Gruenhagen and his wife wanted to help Partee get back on her feet.
“We try to see her at least once a week. She’s part of our family unit to some degree. We have birthday parties and she comes to the house. She’s been to my son’s Little League games,” says Gruenhagen.
In a greater effort to help Partee out, Gruenhagen set up a GoFundMe that has to date raised over $10,000. People in the Quad Cities area and beyond have donated items like bath towels, dishware and a motorized bike to Partee to help her get to and from work. To donate, click here.