The room where the girls died is down narrow stairs in the basement of an abandoned rowhouse. They were twins, a month old. They were beaten and starved and found dead where they lived, in a cellar furnished with junk.
There are rats' nests in the trash-strewed lot on East 31st Street, and Monday there were flies buzzing by the outside door leading to the basement where Emonney and Emunnea Broadway spent their brief lives. Paramedics found them a week ago.
"I know I would not let my dog sleep in that house," said Jesse Alvarina, 67, who has lived in the northeast Baltimore neighborhood for four decades.
The infants were killed by their parents, authorities alleged. Sierra Swann, 17, and Nathaniel Broadway, 24, took refuge in the cellar after Swann ran away from a foster home and gave birth to the twins last month, according to Baltimore police and city officials. Now the two are in jail, each charged with first-degree murder and child abuse and ordered held without bond after a court appearance Monday.
They were charged Friday after an autopsy found that Emonney and Emunnea had suffered fractured skulls, broken ribs and malnutrition, authorities said.
"The sick part of this [is] this is not the first time this happened," said the city's health commissioner, Peter Beilenson, a physician. "It's the same thing: multiple kids, moms abusing the kids. It is not uncommon, and that is why it is so frustrating."
The basement, accessible only from outside, had no electricity, authorities said. Swann, Broadway and the babies lived amid piles of trash and broken furniture. There was a crib for the twins and a mattress resting on milk crates.
As the city absorbed another story of horrendous child neglect Monday, local and state authorities said they were trying to determine whether the deaths were preventable.
Nicole Monroe, a Baltimore police spokeswoman, said police and paramedics responded May 11 to a call from someone reporting that Emonney and Emunnea were not breathing. The infants were taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where they were pronounced dead on arrival.
A police affidavit filed in court states that "both infants were cold to the touch, indicating that the infants had been dead for a period of time before being brought to the hospital." At the time of death, each infant weighed 41/2 to 5 pounds, or about two pounds less than they weighed April 12, the day they were born at Johns Hopkins, Beilenson said.
Swann answered "yes" in District Court when asked if she understood the charges against her but said nothing else. A public defender, Abby Abou, asked Judge Jeannie J. Hong to set a "reasonable bail," but Hong ordered Swann jailed. Broadway also acknowledged understanding the charges and also was jailed despite Abou's request for bail.
Swann's mother, Donna Brown, 41, said her daughter denies abusing the children.
"They were fine. She fed the babies and she laid them down in their crib and she said, 'When we woke up, they were dead,' " said Brown, who spoke with Swann after her arrest.
Sue Fitzsimmons, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, said Swann had another child with Broadway in 2002, when she was 14. But the child was taken from Swann in October after the city's Child Protective Services uncovered evidence of abuse, Fitzsimmons said.
Social workers discovered bite marks on the child's right cheek and burn marks on one of her shoulders, said a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because official records of the case are confidential.
Beilenson said the previous allegation of abuse is one reason he thinks the deaths of the twins could have been prevented.
He said Swann received no prenatal care before the twins were born. He said she delivered one of the girls while still clothed and on her way to the hospital, and delivered the other shortly after arriving. Considering her condition and history, Beilenson said, Johns Hopkins should have alerted the Baltimore City Department of Social Services before Swann left the hospital with the babies.
Instead, he said, a hospital social worker called the city's Child Protective Services and inquired if there were any active cases involving Swann. Because Swann's first child had been removed from her care, the social worker was told that the only case involving her had been closed. Beilenson said the social worker did not urge Child Protective Services to investigate Swann. The twins left the hospital with Swann a day later, Beilenson said.
Staci Vernick, a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Children's Center, said the hospital is investigating its role in the case.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.