Diet From Hell

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That's when they called 911.

The Scottsdale police officers who responded to the apartment saw no evidence that a crime had occurred, a police report stated. The Parkers seemed appropriately distraught. Lily's body looked "well-nourished" and showed no signs of trauma. The apartment was neat; the refrigerator and cabinets well-stocked with vegetables and other health food. If this was child abuse, the Parker's apartment had none of the hallmarks of an abusive home, such as filth, disarray, or drug paraphernalia.

The police report doesn't mention that, at the time, Kimu was pregnant with the couple's fourth child, Zion.

Scottsdale police officer J. Leduc noted that the Parkers' two other kids "appeared healthy" but that Caleb, then 5, was "very small for his age."

Leduc underlined the word very.

Blair Parker, then 31, explained that his grandparents had died despite mainstream medical care, and that Kimu's uncle had died of a seizure. Epilepsy ran in the family, he said. Blair said he worked at Bill Heard Chevrolet in Scottsdale, and didn't qualify for state assistance. Kimu was a former teacher who home-schooled the children.

They had moved to the apartment in the mid-'90s from a small town in Montana. Before that, they lived in Oakland. Blair said he originally was from Baltimore, had been in the Navy, and aspired to be a naturopathic physician. He said he had taken college courses in business administration, marketing, nutrition, medicine, nursing, and engineering.

A few months later, Dr. Marco Ross of the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner ruled that Lily had died of aseptic meningitis, which is rarely fatal. His report shows that Ross deemed the body's appearance "well-nourished," though he also recorded that the 3-year-old weighed 20 pounds, which is very light for her age.

Shawn Steinberg of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office later asked Ross if the child would have survived had the parents given her prompt medical attention. Ross said he couldn't say, according to a note by Steinberg attached to the police report.

On February 5, 2002, Steinberg decided not to prosecute, figuring the state couldn't get a conviction.

The decision was a missed opportunity. And the two surviving Parker children should have been evaluated at a hospital, where signs of malnutrition would have been found.

Defense attorneys successfully kept Lily's death from being raised at Kimu's trial. Mention of it also has been disallowed at Blair's upcoming trial. It makes legal sense: Such a declaration is akin to accusing the parents of child murder, but neither has been charged with that crime.

Whether or not the Parkers' diet had anything to do with Lily's death, the situation appeared suspicious.

As a doctor testified at Kimu's trial, low blood sugar as a result of malnutrition can cause seizures.

Michaela, the Parkers' oldest child, had been treated for seizures at a hospital in Montana when she was 2.

In the past two years, since the children have been under the care of foster parents, they've been fed a calorie-rich diet of vegetarian, though not vegan, food. None has had a seizure.

Kimu Parker was born in Los Angeles in 1970 and was raised in northern California by her mother, Marva Holiday, a singer and songwriter whose half-sister was the daughter of jazz legend Charles Mingus.

On her Web site, www.marvaholiday.com, she notes in her biography that one of her brothers had epilepsy and was found dead in his bed, which supports the story Blair and Kimu gave to police about Kimu's uncle dying of the disorder.

Though Holiday, an East Valley resident, declined to be interviewed for this story, she released a couple of comments via e-mail. She and Kimu ate fish and chicken occasionally until Kimu was 6, when they switched to full-time vegetarianism.

"Due to allergies in my family, I raised all my children as lacto-ovo vegetarians," she wrote, referring to vegetarians who eat milk and egg products.

Holiday's eating habits led her to join the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which encourages members to live healthfully and avoid meat.

Ellen White, who cofounded the Adventist church in the mid-1800s, wrote extensively on nutrition issues, mixing religion and health in one bowl.

She was influenced by philosophers from the European Age of Enlightenment. Modern vegetarianism - based on choice rather than access to meat - originated with 17th- and 18th-century vegetable-diet advocates like René Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Benjamin Franklin.

Besides being perceived to improve health, the diet also was considered by some Christians to be good for the soul. The Bible says Adam and Eve were vegetarians before committing the first sin; they were allowed to kill animals for food only after they were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.