Mother, father are charged in deaths of infant twin girls

Older child was taken from 17-year-old earlier

May 17, 2004|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A 17-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man living in the basement of a vacant Northeast Baltimore rowhouse have been charged with the beating deaths of their 1-month-old twin girls.

Sierra Swann and Nathaniel Broadway, both of the 1900 block of E. 31st St., have been charged with first-degree murder and child abuse causing death, said Baltimore police spokesman Officer Troy Harris. Their daughters, Emonney and Emunnea Broadway, were pronounced dead shortly after being taken by ambulance to Johns Hopkins Hospital on Tuesday night.

The couple were charged Friday after an autopsy revealed the children were the victims of homicide. Both were in custody last night.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said the girl has another child who was taken from her by Child Protective Services because of abuse.

"This mom, at 16, had a 1-year-old baby that was removed from the home," Beilenson said yesterday. He said a conference is scheduled tomorrow at Hopkins to determine what might have gone wrong. "And we will certainly review this in our child fatality review committee," he said.

Yesterday afternoon, boards covered some of the windows at the house on East 31st Street, where police say Swann, Broadway and the babies lived without electricity. The stairs leading to the basement door were cluttered with trash. Little Tikes toys were stacked against the back of the house, and junked furniture and other items cluttered the back yard.

Police received a call just before 7 p.m. Tuesday saying the girls were not breathing, Harris said. When authorities and paramedics arrived, the girls were immediately taken by ambulance to the hospital.

A source familiar with the investigation said the autopsy by the state medical examiner's officer found that the girls' ribs and skulls were fractured. The source said the mother told police that her daughters were fine when she fed them early in the day but that she later found them unresponsive. The children's father then went next door to call 911, the source said.

Beilenson said authorities aren't sure where Swann gave birth to the twins.

"The babies were born out of the hospital, as far as we know, on either the 12th or 13th of April," Beilenson said. "As far as we know, the babies were not referred to Child Protective Services, but I don't know that for sure."

Beilenson said it is likely Swann took her babies to Hopkins after they were born. Hopkins staff referred her to the city Health Department's Maternal and Infant Nursing Program, a home visiting program designed to ensure that high-risk pregnant women receive prenatal care, including treatment for substance abuse or sexually transmitted diseases.

He said the referral noted that Swann had had a child removed from her home because of abuse, that the children were not born in a hospital and that she had not received prenatal care.

Hopkins notified city authorities by mail about the referral, which Beilenson said he believes arrived within the past week to 10 days. "A home visit was scheduled for the day after the kids died," he said.

Beilenson said the fact that a child in Swann's care had been abused would have been a warning signal to authorities that their infant daughters could face harm.

"The super-duper red flag is a previous history of abuse, particularly severe abuse," Beilenson said. "It is almost a guarantee, a very high likelihood, that a young woman will have another child and that child is at a much greater risk for abuse."

News that the girls didn't die of natural causes came as a shock yesterday to neighbors along East 31st Street, where most yards are neatly kept and potted flowers adorn many porches.

Some in the 1900 block of E. 31st St. didn't know a family of four had been living in the house, which at least one neighbor said had been vacant for several months.

"This is a really close-knit block," said Sharon Prioleau, 44, who lives on the same side of the street where the girls stayed with their parents. "Everybody that lives here has been here about 25 years. People didn't even know they were living there. The family that was living there moved out about six months ago."

Neighbor Sheri Decamp, 48, was stunned by the news.

"I never even knew anyone was living there," Decamp said. "It's terrible."

Decamp said her family moved to the neighborhood from Manassas, Va., in late January. She said her son alerted her to some goings-on at the house Tuesday night.

"My son said, `Mom, something happened,' and then we saw the flashing lights," Decamp said. "I saw two young guys sitting on the sidewalk, and then I saw a lady and one of the young boys get into the ambulance. The house was all boarded up. It's hurtful. Two babies."

Beilenson said recent high-profile cases have led his department to make recommendations that could prevent abuse of children.

"Our first recommendation was when a case is closed, and a child has been placed outside of the home, they need to stay with the mom, check in with her frequently," Beilenson said. "If she becomes pregnant again, officials need to ensure that intensive services are provided to her to prevent a future neglect case down the road.

"The second recommendation was that the same caseworker continue with the mother. That's the continuity that needs to be there to ensure the safety of the future kids, that's not there now."

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