ATLANTIC, Iowa (AP) — A western Iowa woman lied to her community and said her 5-year-old daughter had terminal cancer, a ruse that helped her solicit donations for months, authorities said Friday.
Cass County Attorney Dan Feistner said at a news conference that Leatha Slauson, 30, appears to have acted alone when she told residents in Atlantic and elsewhere that her daughter was ill.
An investigation found the child is not suffering from any disease, he said.
The Associated Press is not naming the girl because she may be the victim of a crime.
Slauson was arrested Thursday night and faces charges of felony child endangerment and felony distribution of drugs to a child under 18. Court records do not list an attorney, and Slauson remains at the county jail.
The drug distribution charge was later added on suspicion that Slauson gave the child cannabis oil. Police say they found traces of the drug in the girl's system, but authorities did not release additional information.
The girl and her four siblings are currently under the care of their father. Authorities said they do not suspect the father was involved in the hoax, though the Iowa Department of Human Services has been notified of the case.
Officials said Slauson lied for months in person and online about the girl's health. At least one community event featuring a local fire department involved the girl appearing in person.
"The citizens of the county, the citizens of Atlantic, many of the individuals around who obviously do not like to hear of this type of news, reached out in a way to try to provide support and a lot of it was volunteer, nearly all of it volunteer, and much of it financial," Feistner said.
At one point, a bank account was set up in support of the family. Authorities are not sure how much money was collected, but they believe it was at least several thousand dollars.
Atlantic Police Chief Steve Green said Slauson's story began to unravel when school officials became suspicious of contact information for the child's doctors.
Green, who said his wife suffered from cancer, added that he also donated money.
"I don't think the hearts of the people of this community are going to be hardened by it," he said. "I think everybody's hurt right now, but everybody's gonna heal."
Feistner said additional charges are possible, and the case may involve additional agencies.