Video: Mother charged in deaths of 4 girls

updated 1/11/2008 11:15:38 AM ET 2008-01-11T16:15:38

A woman found in her home with the decomposing bodies of her four daughters was suspected by a social worker of holding one of the girls hostage as early as April, city officials said Friday.

An investigation into the family was closed weeks later because child and family welfare officials thought the family had moved to Maryland — even though authorities there couldn’t locate the family.

“It’s completely unclear why they made that determination,” said Carrie Brooks, spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. The city is continuing to investigate.

The bodies of the girls — ages 5 to 17 — were found Wednesday when deputy U.S. marshals served an eviction notice at the apartment in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Banita Jacks was charged with four counts of first-degree murder after reportedly telling investigators that the children were possessed by demons and died in their sleep.

The oldest girl, Brittany Jacks, stopped attending classes in early March. A social worker from the Booker T. Washington Public Charter School went to the home April 30 and called police after she was denied entry, Fenty said.

The social worker reported that after speaking to Jacks she appeared to have mental health issues and “that she was possibly holding Brittany hostage by refusing to allow her to attend school,” Fenty said. A police officer who responded also was denied entry, but Jacks told him she was home-schooling the children.

Fenty said social workers visited the home several more times in the following weeks, but there was no answer when they knocked at the door. He said the case was closed May 16 because they believed the family had moved to Maryland after finding an address of a relative they believed she was living with.

By mid-June, however, Charles County officials said were not able to locate the family and “nothing (was) done to reopen the case,” D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said.

A spokeswoman for the D.C. Child and Family Services agency referred all calls to the mayor’s office.

Sabrina Brown, vice president of Local 2401 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents city social workers, said they are extremely overworked and urged people to look for solutions.

“We just need to talk, not to blame,” she said.

It is unclear when the girls died. The city’s medical examiner has said the bodies were likely in the apartment for more than 15 days.

Jacks appeared in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday, and told police that the deaths occurred before a utility turned off her electricity, which prosecutors said was in September 2007, according to charging documents.

Lloyd Nolan, a public defender representing Jacks, said the defense team would have no comment on what Fenty said.

Dozens of toys, fresh flowers and balloons lined a fence outside the home Friday. “Rest in peace” was scrawled in black magic marker on some of the balloons, and a white card read “With Deepest Sympathy.” A child’s hair dryer, still in its plastic wrapping, was placed nearby.

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