Members of a Southeast Washington church attended by Wilhelmina Franklin, who was found frozen to death at D.C. Village Wednesday morning, are angry about the death and calling for an explanation from the city of how it happened, the church's pastor said yesterday.
"The whole community is disturbed by this," said the Rev. R. Vincent Palmer, pastor of the Rehoboth Baptist Church on Alabama Avenue SE. "There are a lot of unsatisfied minds, including mine, about how this could happen."
Palmer said he plans to go with a group of parishioners next week to see Mayor Marion Barry about the incident. "If all who want to go went, his the mayor's office would not be big enough to hold them," he said.
In a statement issued late yesterday, Barry said, "Her death is very tragic and I have directed the commissioner of public health to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into this matter."
Franklin, 86, was a patient at St. Elizabeths mental hospital for more than 20 years after her son brought her to Washington from her home in rural South Carolina in the 1940s. She was transferred in 1969 to D.C. Village, a city-run nursing home in far Southwest.
She was not in her room for bed checks at 9 or 10 p.m. Tuesday night, officials said, but nursing home staff did not start looking for her until she was still missing at the 11 p.m. check. At about 4 a.m., after police had been contacted, she was found outside, about 50 feet from the building where she was a resident, dressed in light clothes and with her wheelchair tipped over beside her.
"What is the purpose of a bed check," if staff do not try to find missing people, Palmer said.
Franklin's son and only close living relative, Willie M. Franklin, is chairman of the board of deacons at Rehoboth, where his mother was a member. The elderly woman attended church whenever someone could bring her, according to Palmer, who said he visited her regularly at D.C. Village.
People who knew Franklin said she hated the cold weather. She was described as outgoing and social, someone who enjoyed talking with people.
"Even at her age and with her handicaps, she was still electric and a personality," Palmer said. She loved to sing and give testimony at church, and would talk about her early religious experiences in South Carolina, he said.
The D.C. Department of Human Services, in a preliminary investigation, concluded that D.C. Village staff members did not follow the rules when they failed to search immediately for Franklin when her absence was noticed.