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Investigation: Slain D.C. Family

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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

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Dan Tangherlini
City Administrator, District of Columbia
Friday, January 11, 2008; 2:15 PM

The skeletal remains of Brittany Jacks, 17, Tatianna Jacks, 11, N'Kiah Fogle, 6, and Aja Fogle, 5, were found Wednesday morning, on the second floor of the house in the 4200 block of Sixth Street SE. The girl's mother, Banita Jacks was charged with killing them after reportedly telling police the girls were "possessed by demons" and had been dead for months before marshals found their bodies.

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"It is quite apparent to any citizen of the District of Columbia that these matters were not handled as they should have been," a grim-faced Adrian Fenty told reporters this morning, after ordering an emergency probe into the family's history of involvement with the city government.

City Administrator Dan Tangherlini is conducting the probe and was online Friday, Jan. 11, at 2:15 p.m. ET to discuss the investigation.

A transcript follows.

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Fairfax, Va.: When does the investigation begin and how long will it take?

Dan Tangherlini: The investigation began immediately. We continue to learn more facts and will take as much time as we need to learn all we can. However, we will not wait to take action or make reforms. In addition, we will work with the Inspector General to have them conduct a full, formal investigation.

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Washington, D.C.: This is a very sad story. How could this happen? Is the city really to blame?

Dan Tangherlini: This is an incredibly sad story. It is shocking and disturbing and cries out for attention. And while the city isn't responsible for what happened, the city does have a responsibility to do what it can to protect its most vulnerable citizens. A responsibility that is only heightened when those citizens are children. What we have learned so far shows that the city needs to do more - and should have done more - to afford this protection.

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Washington, D.C.: This story sickens me, just to be clear on that, but I'm kind of wondering how it is the 'fault' of the government that the kids weren't checked on? What government programs are there that are supposed to be monitoring all kids in the District (and are they watching my kids too?). Seems kind of Orwellian that any time a kid dies the government should have been doing more.

I fear the pressure to 'blame the government' is distracting attention from the real criminal in this case.

Dan Tangherlini: We don't believe it is unreasonable for the government (and the community, the schools and anyone else who knew or interacted with this family) to ask what it could have done or done better. While the government can not solve all the problems of a family we do have a responsibility to afford some protection - particularly for the children. There are many lessons to learn from this case about how we can do our work better and we owe it to those children and the community to do so.

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Annapolis, Md.: What has been the reaction to the story within the city administration and in D.C. in general?

Dan Tangherlini: The reaction in the Administration and the city at-large has been profound shock and sadness. The standards under which we hold our government and community can not accept the loss of four young lives in this way. We see it as a reminder that the reform of our city and its programs is not yet complete. We need to redouble our efforts, continually increase our expectations, and reassess our performance.

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Washington, D.C.: This story and the one I read on CNN, where a toddler starved to death in his apartment after his mother died in her sleep, made me wonder about how isolated some people are in our society. There obviously weren't any friends or family members close enough to this family to raise a question about the girls' whereabouts. Is isolation a increasing problem or just one that always been there?

Dan Tangherlini: I can't answer the broader sociological question of isolation. However, I do know, having lived here for quite some time, that this city has a very strong sense of community and neighborhood engagement and involvement. This family had existed, at some level, on the margins of our community, but they did participate, at least, in schools. We do need to work to foster a stronger sense in the community that it is OK to report concerns - particularly when it comes to the well-being of children.

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Washington, D.C.: What steps will now be taken with the D.C. public school systems and D.C. Child and Family Services agencies to ensure us that this never happens again to a family in need?

Dan Tangherlini: That is already underway: Revisiting of past cases closed in a similar way; Creation of a homeschool office; Redoubled efforts to link social services databases. We need to use what we learned from this case about the holes in our safety net to get them sewed shut.

Of course, as the investigation continues we will use everything we learn to make further improvements and reforms.

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Washington, D.C.: I had always assumed that home-schooled kids were outside of the purview of the public school system and the burden was therefore on the parents to teach and make sure the kids met whatever standards are necessary; yet it seems as though some people are arguing it was the "schools'" fault that no one checked on these kids.

Dan Tangherlini: We believe that there should be some more comprehensive mechanism for reporting students who leave schools for homeschooling - or even other schools. We need to ensure that all school-aged children are getting some form of education. Our current system relies too heaviily on parental self-reporting.

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Alexandria, Va.: How is it possible no one noticed the girls were missing? Especially the school-age ones?

Dan Tangherlini: I appreciate everyone's interest and great questions. I have to jump off after this answer.

One school, Booker T Washington public charter school did make an extra effort to locate the oldest child once she stopped attending for an extended period. As I mentioned, we have no consistent reporting requirement and no comprehensive mechanism for tracking school-aged children's educational choice. This, in part, created some of the gaps that these children apparently fell through. It is tragic and unacceptable and we are committed to fixing it.

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washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with Dan Tangherlini. Thank you for joining in.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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