The grieving grandmother of Ciara Jobes observes what would have been the slain girl's 18th birthday.

Marking a time that will never be

August 18, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

Remembering her granddaughter's birthday yesterday, Iva Cruse bought a cake, made her way across the city and lit birthday candles in front of an abandoned rowhouse.

But even as Cruse blew out the candles for her granddaughter, Ciara Jobes, she knew her wish -- that the girl could still be alive -- would never come true.

Almost three years ago, the 15-year-old was found beaten and starved to death on the kitchen floor of her guardian's home.

Investigators found 700 scars and bruises on her emaciated body and arrested Satrina Roberts, who had been given custody of Ciara in court despite being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

In the months after, Ciara's death grabbed the attention of police, legislators, and city and state agencies. Psychiatrists examined Roberts, who admitted whipping Ciara and locking her for days in an empty, unheated room with only a hole in the wall to use as a toilet.

Roberts was convicted of child abuse and second-degree murder, and legislators passed sweeping reforms in Ciara's name to require stricter requirements for legal guardianship.

Most of those involved in the case have moved on. But Iva Cruse, 57, was waiting yesterday for the guests to arrive for what would have been Ciara's 18th birthday -- a solitary figure, talking and singing to herself in front of the house where her granddaughter died.

In the years since Ciara's death, Cruse says, she has led a lonely existence. She spends her nights working the 10:30 p.m.-6:30 a.m. shift in a factory packaging plastic cups.

"I'm still hoping to wake up one day and find it was all a bad dream," she said.

Before being taken in by Roberts, Ciara had lived with Iva Cruse on and off, even though the grandmother's own children had been taken away from her for several years by social services officials for leaving them alone and unsupervised.

Ciara's mother, Jackie, who has since died, was addicted to drugs and was the one who gave Ciara to Roberts, Cruse said. "She couldn't be a mother. She just didn't have her life together.

Some days, Cruse said, she thinks about her last conversation with Ciara (about Aretha Franklin). On others, she recalls her favorite color (red), her favorite food (honey roasted peanuts) and drink (Pepsi).

On her saddest days, Cruse thinks about the life that could have been -- Ciara, who had earned A's as a middle-schooler, had dreamed of becoming a pharmacist.

Recently, Cruse said, she has also thought a lot about a promise she made to Ciara since she was 11 -- to throw her a fabulous 18th birthday party.

So yesterday, dressed in a bright red outfit, Cruse did her best to fulfill the promise.

Like many buildings in the largely vacant neighborhood, the O'Donnell Heights rowhouse is abandoned with cinder-blocked entrances and boarded windows.

Cruse taped a banner along the cinderblocks, decorated the wall with a large, red plastic sheet and set up soft drinks and snacks on the concrete steps.

As she waited for other relatives to arrive, Cruse talked to her dead granddaughter.

"You are making grandma feel old, girl," she said. "You would've been going to college this year, University of Georgia, Georgia Tech. It would have cost me an arm and a leg, but you know I would have done it for you."

Half an hour later, when no one except a reporter and photographer had turned up, Cruse sang and cut the cake by herself.

"Ain't nobody here but me, baby. Just goes to show, nobody but grandma remembers," she said.

But as she was about to leave, two of Cruse's cousins arrived in a car. They explained they had been stuck in traffic and had come mainly for Cruse, not Ciara.

"She can't be doing this every year," said her cousin, Elaine Taylor, 54. "She has to get some closure."

So they talked and prayed with Cruse, and they walked her away from the house.

As they climbed into their car, however, Cruse remained standing, staring at the boarded window of the room where her granddaughter had spent the last years of her life.

"I don't know if I can ever really get over it until I can get inside that room," she said. "I want to feel her pain, her agonizing pain, her bruises. Nobody can understand what a mother feels."

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