Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dad, girlfriend charged with aggravated assault of 2-year-old daughter during his weekend visitation; little girl partially paralyzed (Atlantic City, New Jersey)

Dad is identified as JACOB LIHN.

Partially paralyzed N.J. toddler recovering after alleged assault by dad, girlfriend

Andy Polhamus | For on May 26, 2015 at 7:10 AM, updated May 26, 2015 at 5:02 PM

Jacob Lihn and Jennifer Pandorf, of Washington Township, are charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

Alayna Lihn loves to have her picture taken. Whenever a camera is pointed her way, she grins and calls out "cheese!" as if acting on instinct.

But her smile is a little lopsided these days, and as she sat on her mother's lap recently at rehab facility, Alayna hugged her mom with only one arm. That's because the left side of her body is still paralyzed from a brutal beating the toddler allegedly sustained at the hands of her father and his girlfriend.

Jacob Lihn, 25, and Jennifer Pandorf, 34, of Lupus Lane in Washington Township, Gloucester County, have been charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child for the April 11 attack. Alayna, 2, was beaten so badly that she had retinal hemorrhaging and bleeding on the brain. Doctors determined that she had also suffered a seizure and a stroke.

Melissa Velez, Alayna's mom, said she got a text message from Lihn just before she left to pick Alayna up from a routine weekend visit with her father. The message said the little girl had a swollen face from a possible allergic reaction. When Velez saw her daughter, however, the girl's eyes were swollen shut, and her entire body was limp. She rushed Alayna immediately to a hospital, where doctors told her the injuries were the result of severe abuse.

For two days, no one was sure whether Alayna would survive. #"They were letting three or four of us sleep in the ICU," said Velez. Alayna made it, however, and is recovering in a pediatric rehabilitation ward.

"We're managing, family-wise," said Velez, sitting in the room the two now share at a children's hospital in Marlton. "She's not moving her left arm and leg. That's what we're in rehabilitation for."

Alayna has at least three weeks left before she can go home to Atlantic City. Her days start early, with speech and physical therapy beginning at about 7:30 a.m. She hasn't been home in weeks, but she's still cheerful and precocious, naming all the animals painted on the walls in the corridor and talking to everyone she meets.

"Even before the whole incident, she was wonderful," said Velez. "Everybody she saw, she would say hello. She's never been one to cry."

In the first few days after she regained consciousness — Alayna could not open her eyes for two days after the assault — she was scared and distrusting.

"At first it was a lot of 'don't touch me! I only want Mommy,'" said Wallace Chapman, an old family friend. But on a couple of particularly difficult occasions, Alayna refused to let even her mother touch her.

It was a different Alayna than anyone had seen before, one that bore no resemblance to the one now playing with her mom's cell phone in between bites of finely-chopped beef and potatoes. She had tried to eat an apple the day before, but the muscles in her mouth wouldn't cooperate.

"I feel good!" Alayna said without hesitation when a reporter asked how she was doing. She is making progress regaining the use of her left leg, but is more reluctant with her arm.

"I'm just thankful," said Velez of her daughter's survival, although details of the incident have not yet been released. "My only hope is that the truth finally comes out. I want [Lihn and Pandorf] to say what happened, and I want justice served. This was clearly abuse."

Velez has also missed several weeks of work. The single mom is a manager at a beachfront restaurant and bar in Atlantic City, and has had to spend most of her time in Marlton, catching a bus to get from her home to the hospital.

"It's like something you'd see on a TV show," said Whitney Brennan of Egg Harbor Township, Velez's close friend. "You'd never expect something like this to happen, and when it does, it's crazy. My daughter and Alayna are 11 days apart. I couldn't imagine going through this."

With that in mind, Brennan has started an online fundraiser to help Velez pay the bills while she's out of work.

"It's just Melissa taking care of everything. She works her butt off," Brennan said. "I want to make sure that when Alayna gets out, she has a place to go."

Anyone interested in donating to the fund can do so by visiting

Alayna has finally regained the weight she lost while she was in the ICU, and her speech is getting back to normal. In a few more weeks, doctors will make a decision on whether she can go home.

"She's getting back to the child she was," Velez said. "I just want the old Alayna back."