The week before Brianna Gussert died, her mother called the local middle school to say her daughter would not be in class for the next five days. A week later, Nicole Hussert walked into her daughter’s room – allegedly for the first time in days – and found her dead.
Ms Gussert now faces 25 years in prison for the death of her 13-year-old daughter, who suffered from a chromosomal condition that required constant care. She was charged on Monday with one count of neglect resulting in death, and three counts of possession with intent to deliver amphetamine. She has yet to enter a plea.
Authorities who responded to Ms Gussert’s 911 call in May of 2017 said they found her daughter curled up in a bedroom upstairs, her head facing the foot of the bed. According to a criminal complaint, the house smelled of “rotten food, human waste and death”. It was filled with piles of clothes, garbage, and dirty dishes.
Brianna’s feeding tube was nearly empty, the complaint alleges, and her diaper had not been changed in days. Melinda Tempelis, the Outagamie County district attorney prosecuting the case, said Brianna's diaper weighed 1.25 pounds at the time she was found.
The teenager died primarily of sepsis – a complication of infections that can result in multiple organ failure, according to the complaint.
"[Ms Gussert] does not recall the last time she fed her. She does not recall the last time she changed her diaper,” Ms Tempelis said in court, according to local news station WLUK. “She had not been bathed in over a week. She had not been cared for or checked on.”
"It is completely unfit for habitation for anyone and over the course of that weekend,” she said.
Robert Welygan, a public defender who appeared with Ms Gussert in court, said the criminal behaviour had not been proven by the state.
According to her father, Greg Gussert, Brianna was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, which can cause delayed development and intellectual disability.
Brianna couldn't speak, walk, or eat on her own, her father told the Appleton Post-Crescent. When she was born, doctors said she likely wouldn’t live past 18 months. The circumstances of his daughter's death, Mr Gussert said, was "some of the worst news I've ever heard".
“It's unbelievable what she had to go through," he told Fox News 11.
Mr and Ms Gussert are divorced, and – according to Mr Gussert – Brianna was living with her mother at the time of her death. Mr Gussert and his fiancée lived in an apartment blocks away, with Mr Gussert’s third daughter. Ms Gussert cared for Brianna and the couple’s second daughter because she had more space in her house, her ex-husband said.
"We're all heartbroken and it’s just like a wound that's being reopened,” he told Fox 11 of the charges.
According to the complaint, Brianna missed 162 days of school in her final year. Her mother allegedly told police the absences occurred, in part, because she did not want to deal with getting her daughter ready for school in the morning. She allegedly told officers her daughter had not been to school in “a couple of months,” aside from one day in February or March.
"We are all deeply saddened by Brianna’s death and express our deepest sympathies to all," her school district said in a statement. "The school district is required to follow the laws governing student confidentiality and student records. We cannot comment on any specific student and respect the privacy rights related to every student’s pupil record information."
Ms Gussert is being held on a $300,000 bond, pending her 19 June preliminary hearing. She faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for the neglect charge, and 12.5 years each for the drug charges. Her attorney did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment.
Brianna was remembered in her obituary as a “beautiful, bright, and charismatic young lady” who loved watching football and spending time with her family.
“Brianna had a smile that could brighten the darkest room,” the obituary read.