She's a beautiful baby girl whose heart-rending battle with
pulled at the purse strings of residents of the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
Baby Myah had a
page to raise money for her medical bills, a
video with a pastor calling for help on her behalf, and fundraisers at homes and restaurants.
What she didn't -- and doesn't -- have is any real illness, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said at a news conference Tuesday.
"There is a Baby Myah, and we believe Baby Myah is a healthy child, thank God," Morganelli said in announcing that criminal charges against the girl's mother, and possibly others, are being pursued.
Within days the mother, Arielle Lucinda Brooks, 22, who also uses the last names of Odom and Poor, will be charged with theft by deception for a scheme that began shortly after her daughter was born July 8, 2010, Morganelli said.
Morganelli detailed the accusations before charges are filed because, he said, his office had learned Brooks had a fundraiser scheduled Tuesday night. That's despite Brooks' speaking to county detectives and being at the district attorney's office on Monday, he said.
"This was continuing to go on even though this individual knew she was the subject of this investigation," Morganelli said.
A phone number for Brooks, who lived in
and now lives in
, could not be located Tuesday.
That a mother would fake her daughter's sickness shocked those who donated their time or money to help a girl they thought could be dying.
"It's like looking at the
telethon. You wouldn't question them," said George Cook, pastor of Nehemiah Center in Upper
Township. Cook, who knows Brooks and her family, recorded a YouTube video in which he stood with her and her baby and urged people to join a national bone marrow registry.
Cook said he never thought to doubt Brooks' story. Nor did others.
"The Lehigh Valley is a place that really does try to help people," said David Rank, owner of Starters Riverport in Bethlehem, who held fundraisers that brought "quite a bit" of money for Myah. "I just feel bad that things like this happen in life."
"Get the hell out of here," said Ashley Acernese, who works at Boozers Sports Bar in Avoca, Luzerne County, which held an event for the girl complete with bands this year. "Oh my God, that was a huge, huge benefit we did."
Morganelli said the investigation began after his office received an anonymous tip Sept. 6 that a mother was raising large sums by claiming her child was terminally ill with juvenile leukemia and aplastic anemia, a rare bone-marrow disease.
The informant had seen the baby on "numerous occasions" and believed she had no health problems, Morganelli said. County Detective Robert Miklich began an investigation that confirmed there had been many fundraising events and that Brooks' baby wasn't in fact ill, Morganelli said.
The amount of money Brooks has raised is unknown, but is believed to be at least in excess of $10,000, Morganelli said. Asked where the money went, Morganelli noted that Brooks and her family are poor and may be on public assistance.
Morganelli said he hopes others who may have held fundraisers come forward. But he cautioned that they may never see their dollars returned, given Brooks' financial situation.
Rank, the Starters owner, said the money isn't what hurts. It is that so many people were trusting and put their good names on the line, he said.
"I'm sure something started and it just sort of mushroomed from there," Rank said. "I'm sure that's how it all started; I hope that's how it all started."
Morganelli and others noted that crimes like Brooks' alleged one can harm legitimate causes.