Diet From Hell

Page 5 of 8

"Meat is not essential for health or strength, else the Lord made a mistake when He provided food for Adam and Eve before their fall," White wrote (see www.whiteestate.org). "All the elements of nutrition are contained in the fruits, vegetables and grains."

Holiday raised her children in the church, and Kimu's young life was filled with church activities, potluck dinners and social gatherings. Kimu switched to a vegan diet in her teen years, hoping that avoiding dairy products would help her allergies and asthma.

Kimu met her future husband, Blair, at church, according to Holiday. The couple lived with Holiday before moving to Montana.

But the Parkers strayed far from typical Seventh Day Adventist teachings, which do not call for the withholding of medical care from children. Dozens of hospitals in the United States are affiliated with the church.

Donald McElvain, a local elder in a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Ronan, Montana, near where the Parkers once lived, says neither he nor other church members remember the family.

"It's embarrassing" to have the Parkers linked to his faith, McElvain says.

"That's not what we're about," he says. "We don't believe in abuse."

The Parkers didn't attend church in the Valley, despite having lived in Scottsdale for nine years. They didn't have a traditional doctor. They didn't send their children to a public or private school, where their physical conditions surely would have been noticed and reported. They dressed the children in long pants and long-sleeve shirts, even on hot summer days. They were friendly with neighbors — until a neighbor inquired about the kids. Then they pulled back. Kimu would later tell a police detective she felt isolated. But it was an island of her making.

After Lily died, Kimu told police, some family members accused her and Blair of killing the girl with malnutrition. She said the couple no longer spoke to Blair's mother because of the situation. But if their daughter's death gave the Parkers any doubt about their way of life, they didn't show it.

At home, Kimu and Blair regimented eating, school, exercise, and sleep time for the children, never letting the kids' habits stray from their own beliefs. Authorities couldn't determine whether one spouse was more responsible than the other for the family's meal program. Blair did most of the shopping because Kimu didn't drive, and Kimu prepared most meals. They both knew how much and what kind of groceries the family was consuming.

Court documents show that Prescott eating-disorder specialist Dr. Ray Lemberg believes Blair may have obsessive-compulsive disorder, which would account for his nutritional mindset. Blair's public defender, whom Blair fired last month, wants Lemberg to testify for the defense. But prosecutors opposed the move, arguing that Lemberg can't know all that much about Blair because the two have never met.

Wilson wrote in a court motion that, because Blair doesn't believe in traditional psychology or medicine, he refuses to be examined by Lemberg.

It was that kind of isolation that led to months and years before the community finally figured out what was happening to the Parkers' children. They were getting older but not growing up. By the time of Zion's hospitalization, Caleb, who was 9, stood only 3 feet, 4 inches tall. Eleven-year-old Michaela was 3-foot-9.

Doctors would later testify that even if the parents had been short (they're not: Blair is 6-foot-5 and his wife is 5-foot-6), the children would be much too small for their ages.

Kimu later told police she knew the kids weren't "progressing" and she wanted to get help. Her anxiety grew in late 2004 and early 2005 because Zion, her youngest daughter — already skin and bones — suddenly had lost even more weight. The troubling episode gave the girl an even more skeletal appearance.

But Kimu remembered how the police had been suspicious of her and her husband when Lily died, and she had recently seen a television program about CPS taking kids away from their parents.

"I would never deliberately hurt my child, you know," Kimu told police on the night of Zion's hospitalization. "Only thing I was worried about is: I know that, right now, if someone sees that someone's small, they're gonna think it was neglect."

At her trial last month, Kimu Parker appeared stoic and calm. She dressed modestly, usually wearing long-sleeved suit jackets and long skirts. She's an attractive, young-looking woman with straightened black hair falling below her collar. Even with clothing mostly covering her body, she looked very thin.

Jury members, on the other hand, possessed more typical American physiques. More than half were overweight. Observers couldn't help but wonder whether the jurors' own lifestyle choices could've influenced their verdict.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.