In Baby's Death, a History of Unrest at Home

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008

Court records and accounts from neighbors show that the home of a 6-month-old boy who died last month was in turmoil as a young couple struggled to rear four small children in a Trinidad apartment in Northeast.

The boy died while his case was still open with a D.C. social worker, who had never visited him despite a hotline call reporting neglect.

On the afternoon of June 25, Morgan Herrera-El, 25, called 911 for her son Isiah Garcia. By 3:15 p.m., a doctor at Children's National Medical Center had pronounced the boy dead, according to a police report. His injuries were unknown.

"She's trying to get through this," said Yolanda El, Herrera-El's aunt. "She is not a bad mother. . . . Morgan had overwhelming responsibility."

El said she accompanied her niece to D.C. Superior Court for a hearing Saturday. There has been no official ruling on the cause of Isiah's death.

El, who said she was speaking on behalf of her niece, said Herrera-El had taken her three other children, ages 3, 2 and 1, outside to play in front of the apartment while Isiah slept in his playpen. When they returned, he was not breathing. El said it is not clear who else was in the house at the time.

Her niece "has not gotten a report back on what took the child, and they are refusing to give her a report," El said. The family also is awaiting the return of the other children, who have been removed from the home, she said.

Beverly Fields, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said she could not release information to The Washington Post because the child's name was not entered into the office's system under the name listed in the police report. Interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said he had not been given a cause of death by the office.

Herrera-El and Jesus Garcia, the children's father, did not return a phone call or respond to notes left at the Trinidad apartment. El cited their membership in the Moorish National Republic, saying that Herrera-El did not have permission to speak to the media. The organization considers itself a government within the U.S. government, El said.

El said Herrera-El grew up in Fairfax County and the Richmond area and moved to the District with her live-in boyfriend and children about a year ago. Herrera-El was a stay-at-home mother and was taking college courses online. An online social networking site has a photo of Herrera-El standing next to an empty baby bouncer, which parents use to comfort children. The site also indicates her interest in rock, reggae and R&B music.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) fired the social worker handling the case, saying there is no excuse for failing to visit the child. Her supervisor has been placed on administrative leave. Labor union leaders say the social worker was dealing with 50 cases; the national standard is 12 cases per worker.

On March 27, someone called a child-abuse hotline and said Isiah was being neglected, Nickles said. Three months later, Isiah was dead.

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