“They look so happy,” the 27-year-old mom said from her apartment in Silver Spring recently, looking at her phone during one of several extended interviews about the case.
She wants to know the truth about Cruz-Rosario, who lived in her apartment and decorated the kids’ rooms with fresh paint — adding glitter for the girls and the number 95 for the boys, a reference to the animated movie “Cars.” He took care of the children for long stretches while she worked as an office manager at an accounting firm.
“Every minute, every day, I’m always thinking about what happened,” she said. “If it did happen, why?”
The Washington Post is not naming the woman to protect the identity of her children. She has doubts about the case, mostly because her children never told her of abuse. Cruz-Rosario has yet to give his version of the events in court. He remains locked up on $1 million bond.
But if the accusations against Cruz-Rosario are true, the woman’s experience — along with her questions and replaying what she might have missed — offer insight into what experts say is an all-too-common phenomenon.
Sheri Rettew, the board chairman of a group called Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, said abusers can groom a child not only to keep the abuse a secret but to smile later as if nothing is wrong. “They’re really good at this,” she said. “This is what they’re best at.”
In the Silver Spring case, the mother’s worries are compounded by the fact that her children have been taken from her — sent to foster homes and, in the case of her oldest three, to their biological father. The mother sees her kids once a week, at a county-supervised house designed for such visits.
“Mommy! Mommy!” two of them could be heard greeting her as she approached.
She is not allowed to speak with them about the case. She wants to ask them what happened, tell them they did nothing wrong, take them home.
“If he did this, I’m their mother — I need to be the one to talk with them,” she said.
By her own frank admission, the woman has had her share of struggles. She became a mother as a teen and has given birth to eight children; seven of the births were Caesarian sections. Her family has been on food stamps. And for a brief period last year, she and her kids were homeless, and the county put them up at a hotel.
But the woman has been employed, earning nearly $1,000 a week during tax season. She has tried to push her kids to succeed — to get a college degree, to find a spouse who will stay forever. “To me, each one is a blessing,” she said.