Mother charged with abuse

Children ages 4, 5, 6 were alone for days, police say

Rowhouse lacked heat

School officials, woman spoke about housing

January 29, 2003|By Laurie Willis and Liz Bowie | Laurie Willis and Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

A West Baltimore woman accused of leaving her three young children unattended in their frigid home for three days was charged last night with reckless endangerment and child abuse, as social services and school officials try to sort out the details of the troubling situation.

Police say Tiffany Simmons, 23, of the 900 block of N. Gilmor St. left her children - daughters Tabitha Davis, 4, and Tysheara Cook, 6, and a son, Turrell Davis, 5 - alone for at least three days in a rowhouse that lacked heat, electricity and running water during the city's coldest weather in recent years. Western District police found the children late Monday morning after Simmons' cousin called police and met officers at the front door of the house.

When the children were found, the youngest girl was suffering from slight frostbite on one foot, said Detective Donny Moses, a Baltimore police spokesman. The children were cold and hungry, and two of them appeared to have ringworm, Moses said.

Simmons was being held last night at the Central Booking and Intake Center.

All three children attended Gilmor Elementary/Junior Academy, a prekindergarten through sixth-grade school, but had not attended classes since winter break, said Principal JoAnn Cason. The school is within walking distance of the three-story rowhouse, which is on a block where most houses are boarded up.

Simmons recently told school officials that she was seeking better housing for her family and had been referred to social services agencies by school staff, according to Cason.

"I do know that she was referred, and she wasn't very successful," Cason said yesterday.

The children were frequently absent from school beginning last month, Cason said, and a letter was sent to the mother saying that the law required that she keep her children in school.

Simmons complied with a request to attend a parent conference last month, Cason said. It was then, the principal said, that Simmons implied that her children had been staying with different relatives because she couldn't find a suitable home. School staff suggested she relocate her children to a shelter, but Cason said school officials are not sure what action Simmons took.

When the children did not return to school after break, Cason said her staff filed the necessary paperwork asking for a court order requiring Simmons to keep her children in school.

Despite the children's recent attendance problems, Cason said Simmons appeared to take interest in her children and that they showed no signs of neglect when they came to school.

When Western District police officers found the children, they were dirty, Moses said. He also said the toilet could not be used because the house had no running water.

Public works officials said there is still water service at the address even though the account has an outstanding balance. In light of police reports that the house had no running water when the children were found, public works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher suggested that either the water was intentionally shut off from inside the home or that the pipes were frozen.

A Baltimore Gas & Electric spokeswoman said yesterday that utility service was shut off at Simmons' home in April for nonpayment and that no one had attempted to settle the account's balance or request that service be restored.

Citing customer privacy, BGE spokewoman Sharon Sasada declined to say how much is owed or how long the account has been in arrears. Sasada added that BGE has not turned off anyone's electricity in the past two weeks because of the extreme cold.

The children were placed in the custody of the city's Department of Social Services, Moses said. That agency's spokeswoman, Sue Fitzsimmons, said confidentiality laws prevented her from confirming whether DSS had taken custody of Simmons' children or whether the agency had been involved before with the family.

Neighbors in Simmons' Sandtown-Winchester community characterized her as a woman down on her luck who has struggled to provide for her children.

Lamont W. Flanagan, commissioner of the state's pretrial detention and services division, said Simmons initially tried to turn herself in Monday night at Central Booking and Intake Center, but she was not held in custody because officials could find no record of a warrant. Simmons again attempted to surrender to jail authorities around 6:30 p.m. yesterday, Flanagan said, after she had read in news accounts that police wanted to question her.

Sun staff writers Reginald Fields, Walter F. Roche Jr., Del Quentin Wilber and Kimberly A.C. Wilson contributed to this article.

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