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Parents Indicted in Death

By Scott Sandlin
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    World of Warcraft, an online computer game that involves simulated role-playing, epic quests and monster-slaying, commanded the near-constant attention of Rebecca Wulf, prosecutors say.
    But the attention lavished on gamesmanship— four to six hours at a time— did not spill over into child care.
    Instead, "callous disregard" caused her 3-year-old daughter's death by starvation in 2006, according to court documents.
    Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Wulf, 24, and her airman husband, Derek Wulf, 31, on second-degree murder charges, as well as state child-endangerment charges. Derek Wulf is also charged with child abandonment.
    Second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
    The Wulfs, who were living at Holloman Air Force Base, are scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Thursday in Las Cruces on the charges.
    Attorneys for the Wulfs could not be reached for comment.
    Rebecca Wulf was arrested in Pensacola, Fla., on March 30 while at a custody hearing regarding another child, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Winder, who is handling the prosecution. Derek Wulf was arrested the same day in Montgomery, Ala.
    Brandi Wulf died of dehydration and malnutrition on Jan. 26, 2006, in a squalid house filled with cat feces, moldy food and unwashed dishes, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
    In a sadly ironic twist, an FBI search warrant affidavit describes Rebecca Wulf as being enrolled in an online degree program in criminal justice. Her specialty: cyber crime.
    Federal agents, acting on a search warrant, obtained court permission to search the inside of Rebecca Wulf's black Dell computer last October. Derek Wulf had previously agreed to let investigators looking into Brandi's death take the computer.
    According to the FBI affidavit, the child was taken to Champion Hospital emergency room in Alamogordo after her mother called to report the girl limp and not breathing.
    Doctors tried to administer fluids, but Brandi died soon after arriving. An autopsy showed severe dehydration.
    Air Force investigators conducted a search of the home and found it filthy and in disarray. According to an interview with the mother, Brandi was put to bed between 10 p.m. and midnight the night before she died. When Rebecca woke up and began her morning routine, it "did not include checking on Brandi Wulf's well-being," the affidavit says.
    The mother told investigators that her daughter had an undiagnosed stomach disorder that caused daily diarrhea or vomiting but that her last visit to the doctor had been more than a year earlier.
    Derek Wulf was on temporary duty in northern Virginia at the time of his daughter's death.
    Interviewed by investigators in May 2006, he said that his wife suffered from depression and social anxiety disorder and that he was taking prescription medications for depression.
    The affidavit says investigators hoped to find evidence of Rebecca Wulf's "computer use and habits ... and the inordinate amount of time spent on the computer."
    The search warrant affidavit says Rebecca Wulf told an FBI agent that she normally stayed up late playing World of Warcraft.