Toddler may have been alone with body for more than 2 days

TYRONE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A toddler found inside a Kent County home where deputies also discovered a man’s body may have fended for herself for days.

Shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, authorities were called to a home in the 15000 block of Peach Ridge Avenue NW in Tyrone Township, near Kent City. Inside was the body of a 49-year-old man, according to Kent County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Tom Raymond. Also there was a 2 1/2-year-old girl who is alive.

Family friends told 24 Hour News 8 the man who died is Ron Finkler and the toddler, for whom he was caring, is named Haleigh Ann.

Haleigh was taken to a Grand Rapids hospital. She was treated for possible dehydration and a possible urinary tract infection, her mother told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone, but is otherwise OK and was released late Tuesday afternoon. Haleigh is now being cared for by her maternal grandmother.

Finkler appears to have died of natural causes, sheriff’s deputies said, though authorities are waiting on autopsy results and the time of death is not yet clear.

Tammy VandeWetering, Finkler’s friend, said she last spoke to him on the phone Saturday. He seemed fine at the time, she said, and she didn’t know of any health problems.

“From what I’m understanding, I was the last one that they know that talked to him,” she said.

Monsignor Terrance Stewart said Finkler attended Holy Family Catholic Church in Sparta and lived at the home where he was found. He said relatives had been trying to contact Finkler for a couple days, but their calls went unanswered.

“Finally they got concerned and then went over to see and found him,” Stewart said.

They also found Haleigh. Stewart said it appears the child had been alone for a few days.

“It’s hard to believe and hard to understand,” Stewart said. “Apparently she went into the refrigerator and got food and so on. They think that’s what she did.”

Despite her age, VandeWetering said she was not surprised that Haleigh was able to survive.

“I can see Haleigh dragging a chair over there and getting something,” VandeWetering said. “You have to know her. She’s so smart. … Ron just spent so much time teaching her things that I kind of can understand it. And he always made sure everything was Haleigh-friendly.”

Friends say Haleigh had been living with Finkler, who was a friend of her grandfather, since at least the fall. Haleigh’s father was locked up on a cocaine charge and “the mom was having some issues,” VandeWetering said.

“He (Finkler) just stepped right up and he was having the time of his life playing daddy,” she continued.

He had no children of his own.

“That little girl was his life,” VandeWetering said.

A neighbor said she often saw Finkler outside with Haleigh.

“He was having a great time with her, smiling, laughing, giggling. They were singing ABCs, dancing, just playing, like running around playing games and stuff,” Lisa Johnson said.

“Haleigh’s going to take a while to get over it. Uncle Ron was the world to Haleigh,” VandeWetering said.

Monsignor Stewart said the man’s parents had lived at the Peach Ridge Avenue home before moving north.

Raymond said there is nothing to indicate any type of criminal activity led to the man’s death — no obvious signs of injury or foul play — but the investigation is ongoing.

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