The legal guardian of a 15-year-old Baltimore girl, whose severely beaten and emaciated body was found on the kitchen floor of a public housing apartment, was charged last night with first-degree murder.
Ciara Jobes weighed 73 pounds at death and looked "like something you see on TV when they're asking for donations for Third World countries," said Marvin Sydnor, a Baltimore homicide detective. It appeared that the teenager had been kept for at least several months in an unfurnished, unheated second-floor bedroom that had a chain lock on the outside of its door, Sydnor said.
"It's . . . something you wouldn't do to a dog," said Sydnor, who was among the officers who responded to a 911 call Wednesday afternoon. "You wouldn't do this to an animal."
The guardian, Satrina Roberts, 31, also was charged with first-degree assault and child abuse. She was in custody last night, awaiting a bond hearing.
Roberts waived her right to silence and sat in front of a police tape recorder last night, talking about the beatings she gave Ciara with a leather belt, switches, electrical cords and her own hands, according to court documents.
Ciara had not been outside the house since the summer, and detectives found her body covered "with old and fresh trauma," charging documents said.
Left behind in Roberts' apartment in the O'Donnell Heights public housing complex in southeast Baltimore were a Christmas tree and children's gifts, police said.
Police were unsure how or when Roberts came to be Ciara's legal guardian. Ciara's mother died of AIDS in July. Her grandmother, Iva Cruse, cares for two siblings.
Roberts was a friend of Ciara's mother, Cruse said, and the girl had lived with her for four years. Cruse said she last saw her granddaughter in August 2000.
"Trina had brainwashed Ciara, told her we didn't want her, we didn't love her. She made Ciara think we didn't give a damn about her," Cruse said. "We couldn't visit. We didn't know where Ciara lived. If we called, she would change the phone number to keep Ciara from talking to us."
This fall, the teenager was accepted into an advanced academic program at Patterson High School, a mile away. Despite frequent absences as an eighth-grader last year, "she was a student who loved school and did well," Baltimore school spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt said.
But she did not report to Patterson when classes started in September. Officials called Roberts's apartment, but the phone had been disconnected, Pyatt said. They followed up with two letters -- "offering to assist in any way to get the student back in school." But there was no response, and the case was referred to truancy court.
Ciara's guardian failed to appear in court Dec. 4 for a hearing, authorities said. "The next step would have been a home visit within a week to 10 days, depending on the caseload of the truancy officer," Pyatt said.
The police officers arrived first. In the upstairs bedroom, they found a hole in one wall, about 12 inches in diameter, that Ciara had used for a toilet, Sydnor said. A leather loafer was filled with urine.
The detective said the guardian gave the following account to police. Roberts said she had used a belt on Ciara sometime after midnight Tuesday, beating her for 15 minutes in the bedroom because the teenager had defecated on herself.
When Roberts woke up about noon Wednesday and checked on Ciara, the girl was sitting on the floor, propped against a wall. As she fed her cereal and milk in the bedroom, Roberts noticed "white stuff" coming out of her nose and mouth. Roberts called her mother, who advised her to call 911. Roberts brought Ciara downstairs to the kitchen and "poured water on her head, trying to revive her."
The body was covered with cuts and bruises, police said. "She was beaten from her face to her toes, all over, everywhere," Sydnor said.
A police spokeswoman said the city's Department of Social Services will take part in the investigation of the death.
Neighbors said that Ciara had few, if any, friends. But even casual classmates from the neighborhood, 13-year-olds like Tanya Brewer and Johneika Gregory, said they noticed that things weren't right.
"She used to eat stuff off the floor" at school, Tanya said. "People said she wasn't fed at home."
"She was quiet," Johneika said. "She didn't ever say anything to anyone."
And then she simply disappeared.
Staff writers Susan Levine and Petula Dvorak and researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.