IMAGE: Nixzmary Brown
Nixzmary Brown, shown here in a class photo provided by a family friend, was found dead in her New York home on Jan. 11.
updated 1/13/2006 9:34:47 AM ET 2006-01-13T14:34:47

The outside world knew Nixzmary Brown was a little girl in peril.

Her school saw the warning signs. So did neighbors. Even child welfare workers had been alerted — twice.

This week, the 7-year-old was beaten to death in a Brooklyn apartment where she had been tethered to a chair with twine. It was the fourth homicide in recent months involving a family monitored by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, renewing concerns about the agency’s ability to protect abused children.

System failed
As details of Nixzmary’s torment emerged, child welfare officials admitted the system had failed her. They launched an immediate review of thousands of other cases citywide.

ACS Commissioner John Mattingly said, in Nixzmary’s case, the family was uncooperative, ignoring repeated phone calls from caseworkers and turning them away at the door. He said the agency should have obtained a court order to enter the home.

“We were in a position to have kept this from happening, and that did not happen,” Mattingly said.

The girl’s stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, accused of binding, beating and molesting her, was arraigned Thursday on charges of second-degree murder, sex abuse and child endangerment. Her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, was arraigned on second-degree manslaughter and child endangerment charges.

Both were held without bail. Telephone calls to their defense attorneys were not immediately returned.

'She was bound like an animal'
The girl was “tortured,” prosecutor Ama Dwimoh told reporters outside court.

“She was beaten repeatedly,” Dwimoh said. “She was bound like an animal.”

Nixzmary’s death followed that of three other children known to the agency: a 7-year-old died in October after her father allegedly kneed her in the stomach and beat her with a belt over two days; an infant drowned in November in a bathtub while his mother listened to CDs in another room; and a 1-year-old was allegedly beaten to death in December by his mother.

School employees had sounded the alarm about Nixzmary last year by reporting that she had been absent for weeks. Caseworkers spoke to her stepfather, mother and the child and found no conclusive evidence of abuse, authorities said.

On Dec. 1, there was another report from someone claiming to have seen the girl with a swollen eye. A doctor concluded the injury was consistent with an explanation that she had fallen, but the agency kept the case open and kept trying to contact the parents.

Neighbors said they also noticed unexplained injuries and said the child appeared malnourished and small for her age.

On Wednesday, her mother told authorities she found the girl unconscious around 4 a.m. and called 911. The child was dead at the scene; an autopsy found that she died from a vicious blow to the head.

Investigators said there was evidence the girl had been bound by her ankles to a chair. They suspect the stepfather delivered a fatal blow to the child’s head while dunking her in a bathtub as punishment, police said.

Under questioning, the stepfather tried to portray the girl as a problem child, police said.

Five other children living in the apartment, ages 6 months to 9 years, have been placed in the custody of the child welfare agency.

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