Little Jackie decides to 'become an angel' 6-year-old girl killed by train

June 16, 1993|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

DANIA, Fla. -- A 6-year-old girl, depressed because her mother is dying of AIDS, deliberately stood in front of a fast-moving freight train yesterday and let it hit her.

The child's death was ruled a suicide by the Medical Examiner's Office.

The victim, Jacqueline "Jackie" Johnson, had recently talked about killing herself after learning that her mother was incurably ill and wanted to be in heaven with her mother, police and family members said.

Jackie had been on her way to Dania Elementary School with her 8-year-old brother Valarius, her sister Stephiferia, 7, and a cousin about 7:30 a.m.

She walked between the rails on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and told her companions she wanted to die, the surviving children told investigators.

As the northbound train, its horn blaring, bore down on Jackie, the other children pulled her off the tracks. Again saying, "I want to die," Jackie broke away and stood near the rail on the west side until the train hit her, throwing her about 20 feet, police said. The other children were powerless to help her.

"They told me she said she 'wanted to become an angel and be with her mother,' " said Gloria Wright, a cousin of Jackie's who had been caring for the girl while her mother was ill.

Though the engineer applied his brakes when he saw the child, the train was traveling about 35 mph when it hit her, police said. The 63-car train stopped about two-tenths of a mile north of where she was hit.

"She was hit by the the edge of the guard on the engine, what used to be called the cow catcher," said Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald Wright. "She was hit on the back of the right leg, which threw her forward and broke her neck."

When Dania Fire-Rescue medics reached the scene at 7:38 a.m., Jackie was not breathing and had a pulse rate of 30, said Division Chief Jim Mulford.

"She had head trauma, cuts on her forehead and left cheek," Mr. Mulford said. "She was taken to Memorial [Hospital], but she was essentially dead at the scene. The emergency room trauma surgeon pronounced her dead at 8:20."

Because of her mother's illness and lengthy hospital stay, Jackie had been staying with Ms. Wright, just a block from the railroad tracks and two blocks from where she was hit.

Carla Johnson, Jackie's seriously ill mother, was staying with other relatives in Hollywood, Fla.

Gloria Wright rushed to the scene when she heard of the accident.

"They all walked together every day. This morning, I walked them across Phippen Road," Gloria Wright said. "It wasn't five minutes, my daughter came running back and said Jackie was hit by a train and she was dead.

"I ran over to the tracks. Her head was on the rocks. It was busted open, and blood was coming from everywhere. I was too scared to pick her up."

As depressed as Jackie may have been over her mother's illness, Gloria Wright said she was basically a happy child.

"She liked to play a lot and ride bicycles," she said. "She was very friendly. She was doing very good in school."

Winsome Bright, Jackie's kindergarten teacher, said she didn't notice any signs of depression or behavioral aberrations of any kind in the child. Jackie had missed several weeks of school recently because of a skin infection and had just returned.

Dr. Wright, the medical examiner, based his ruling of suicide on three things, he said.

"First, she had spoken with the other children and indicated she planned on killing herself," Dr. Wright said. "She put herself in front of the train twice. And, the testimony of the engineer is that she just stood by the side of the track."

Homicide detectives from the Broward Sheriff's Office came to the same conclusion after talking with the three children who were with Jackie at the time of the accident.

"This was a fairly spontaneous thing," said Capt. Richard Scheff. "When she saw the train, she saw it as an opportunity. Clearly, suicide was something that was on her mind. We learned that several times recently, she said she wanted to get hit by the train."

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