An attorney for a West Baltimore mother accused of abandoning her three children for several days in a dark, unheated house said that the woman was sleeping each night with the children and spending her days looking for assistance to help her family.
And some who knew Tiffany Simmons, who is charged with reckless abandonment and child abuse, said she had had no parental figure since age 16 and was trying desperately but failing to properly care for her children.
Simmons, 23, was arrested Tuesday, a day after police found her children - two girls, ages 4 and 6, and a boy, 5 - in a frigid three-story rowhouse in the 900 block of N. Gilmor St. that had no running water or electricity. One of the girls had frostbite, and two children suffered from ringworm.
The mother, who was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail, was moved to protective custody yesterday morning because the charges against her involve crimes against children, and that sometimes incites violence by other inmates, a jail official said.
"She was out actually trying to secure help from the various agencies and relatives," said her lawyer, Warren Brown. "She had been stopping in, checking in - in and out, in and out. She couldn't take the kids with her. But this notion that she left on Day 1 and didn't come back until Day 4 is not true."
Brown said he did not know where Simmons had gone to look for help during the time she is accused of abandoning her children. He said the children were never alone for more than a couple of hours a day and that Simmons "was spending nights with her children huddled up."
Phyllis Burgess, a career facilitator and former intake counselor for a city welfare-to-work program, said she tried to help Simmons.
Simmons' grandmother died in 2001, her grandfather had died years before, and neither parent was active in Simmons' life once she reached age 16, Burgess said. The young mother grew up and lived in the Gilmor Street rowhouse once owned by her grandparents, Burgess said.
"It's like from the time she was a teen-ager she was being punished," Burgess said. "I feel like Tiffany is as much a victim as the children are."
Simmons signed up to collect welfare last year and was referred to a work program, where Burgess met her, the job counselor said. Burgess' task was to prepare Simmons to hold a job and help her find employment. But because of her children, Simmons could never work.
"Whenever we found her a job, her day care still was not in place. She had no family, no one to watch her kids. She couldn't go to work," Burgess said.
Burgess said she tried to get Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to restore utility service at the home in Simmons' name. BGE said Tuesday that it could not switch the name on the account until the overdue bill, which was in Simmons' grandmother's name, was paid. BGE said utilities were cut off in April.
The principal at Gilmor Elementary/Junior Academy, a pre-kindergarten-through-sixth-grade school two blocks from the home where Simmons' children were enrolled, recalled Simmons as a troubled but caring mother.
"I caution people not to rush to judgment. She was dealing with life issues, of trying to get herself together," said JoAnn Cason, Gilmor's principal.
Cason said Simmons' children were often absent before the winter break. When the school requested a parent conference because of the absences, Simmons showed up. That was when Cason learned that Simmons was trying unsuccessfully to find another place to live and that the children were spending nights with various relatives.
"It hurts you because this woman cared for her children," Cason said.
The children have not attended school since the break.
Brown said Simmons bears some responsibility but that others should have helped, including the police, the Department of Social Services, BGE, the courts and the fathers of Simmons' children, who, he said, are not helping to raise them.
Court records show that Simmons was the victim of domestic abuse. A boyfriend, Turrell Davis, 22, was convicted of assaulting her twice, in 1999 and 2000.
Brown, who represented Davis, said there is no conflict in his representing Simmons.
Sun staff writers Liz Bowie and Allison Klein contributed to this article.