Fenty Describes Missteps Before Girls Died

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty provides a timeline of government interaction with Banita Jacks and her family in a press conference on Friday. Video by News Channel 8/WJLA-TV 7Editor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com
By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 12, 2008

Five government agencies had contact with Banita Jacks in the months leading up to the deaths of her four daughters, according to a timeline that D.C. officials released yesterday detailing the family's descent. But at least twice, the agencies charged with protecting the children apparently lost track of them.

In a news conference, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other city officials listed steps taken by social workers, police officers and school officials to try to help Jacks, her companion and her daughters, who she told police were possessed by demons.

At one point, Fenty said, a nurse at George Washington University Hospital called the Child and Family Services Agency's hotline to report that the family was living in a van. But the hotline worker immediately closed the case because the family had no fixed address, Fenty (D) said.

The bodies of the children, allegedly killed by their mother, were found in a Southeast Washington residence Wednesday. Months earlier, police were called to the house after receiving a report that the mother might have been holding her eldest daughter hostage. But D.C. social workers dropped another inquiry because of an inaccurate report that the family had moved to Maryland. Authorities have said the children might have been dead since May.

The case, with its young victims, ages 5, 6, 11 and 17, has left city officials swamped with concerns that the children were lost by the system. Fenty called the case record "extremely underwhelming and disappointing" and vowed to change procedures and punish or fire employees found responsible for letting the family slip through the cracks.

"These matters were not handled as they should have been," he said sternly as he announced the results of a two-day investigation by the city's acting attorney general, Peter Nickles, and City Administrator Dan Tangherlini. The five agencies that had contact with Jacks were Family Services, the public school system and the police, human services and health departments.

"Anytime you lose a life in the District of Columbia, it's a sad day," he said. "But not many days at all have rivaled the type of grief this has sparked in the hearts and minds of this community."

Fenty said city officials have reopened every other case that the Child and Family Services Agency closed with an "incomplete" status, as the Jacks case was. He said 309 cases will be reviewed "to see if they were closed without the proper level of inquiry."

He also vowed to establish a system to track children who are home-schooled or who move from school to school. After Jacks's daughters were withdrawn from D.C. charter schools, she sent word through a school employee that she would home-school the girls.

Jacks, 33, who was charged with murder Thursday, has denied killing the children. The bodies were found in an advanced state of decomposition after marshals arrived to serve eviction papers at a two-story brick rowhouse in the 4200 block of Sixth Street SE.

A family friend has said that Jacks was devastated by the Feb. 19 death from cancer of her longtime boyfriend, Nathaniel Fogle Jr., the father of her two youngest children, but kept telling concerned relatives that she and the girls were doing well.

Fenty said the family moved to the District in December 2005, apparently from Maryland.

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