Fragile Lives, Precious Peace

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The small white caskets with silver trim were in front of the altar, next to pictures of the two little girls who died. A tiny pair of pink ballet slippers and a pink and white teddy bear were positioned on each closed coffin.

Nearly five months after their bodies were found in a Southeast Washington rowhouse, N'Kiah Fogle, 6, and Aja Fogle, 5, were buried yesterday after a service attended by about 130 mourners at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. The funeral program quoted Matthew 19:14: "Suffer little children and forbid them not to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven."

The girls' mother, Banita Jacks, was miles away, held in the D.C. jail on charges that she killed N'Kiah, Aja and two other daughters, Brittany Jacks, 16, and Tatianna Jacks, 11. The older girls will be buried this weekend after a service in La Plata. The girls' bodies were found Jan. 9, and authorities have estimated that they had been dead since summer. Apart from Banita Jacks, no one had reported seeing the children since May 2007.

Yesterday, relatives filled several rows of the church in Northeast Washington. They listened as soloists sang "Jesus Loves Me," with its lyrics "Little ones to Him belong," and another song, "When I Spend My Vacation in Heaven." The singing of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," about trusting God's love, prompted such an emotional response that many people left the church to compose themselves.

In between the caskets was a poster-size bulletin board of photos of N'Kiah and Aja laughing and playing together, with their father, Nathaniel Fogle Jr., who died of cancer last year, and the other sisters. The service was organized by Fogle's relatives.

According to the obituary given to mourners, N'Kiah was nicknamed "Chunky Munk" among family members and attended Meridian Public Charter School, where she was learning Spanish. Aja, nicknamed "Red Baron," also attended Meridian and loved coloring, drawing, jumping rope and playing with her dolls. Like so many children their ages, both enjoyed watching "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Dora the Explorer."

The service offered many memories of the girls but no answers about their deaths. The funeral was not held sooner partly because forensics experts are still trying to determine exactly how they died. Because the bodies were so seriously decomposed, the experts can say only that Brittany was stabbed and that the other girls showed signs of trauma.

Jacks, 33, has told police that the girls were possessed by demons and that they died in their sleep. She has denied killing them.

Family members declined to comment yesterday. In the program, they wrote of the girls: "Their passing leaves within our hearts an enormous feeling of real loneliness, but also cherished memories that will last a lifetime."

The funerals were scheduled after relatives petitioned the D.C. medical examiner's office to release the bodies. This weekend's services for Brittany and Tatianna are being organized by the family of Banita Jacks.

Those paying respects included Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who has said the city missed opportunities to protect the girls, failing to follow up after they stopped attending school early last year. Some family members have sued the city or sent notice of plans to do so.

Fenty expressed condolences to relatives before the funeral began and did not stay for the services. Outside the church, he called the sisters' deaths "one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the District of Columbia" and said he hoped the funeral brings some "closure and healing" to the family.

Days after the bodies were found, Fenty overhauled the child welfare system and fired six workers involved in Jacks case. The mayor also offered at the time to pay for the children's funerals. His spokeswoman, Carrie Brooks, said the city did not pay for the services.

Many of the mourners, including Betty Pollard of Hyattsville, did not know the family. Pollard said she attended the funeral for the children. "I just wanted them to know that someone cared for them," said Pollard, a mother of five and grandmother of seven.

Ann Jackson of Northeast Washington brought two roses that she hoped to place on the caskets. "My heart goes out to these children. They didn't have a chance to start living," said Jackson, a mother of two.

Terilynn Louden, who lived next door to Jacks and her daughters, said she was relieved that the funeral was finally held. "I miss the little girls running up and down the steps," Louden said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company