Within four walls, a world of pain

This story and the ones below were reported by James Queally, Ryan Hitchins, Susan K. Livio and Mark Mueller. They were written by Mueller. 

From their beds at a Newark hospital, the little boy and his sister described an existence defined by routine.

There were prayers four times a day.

There were beatings, some delivered with open hands, others with a cord, a stick or a block of wood.

Mornings and afternoons, they were tied to a radiator in a lightless pantry, the only toilet a bucket.

Christiana Glenn
Christiana Glenn

At night, they slept on the floor.

And always, there was hunger, so painful and profound they cried aloud for food.

Six-year-old Solomon Glenn and his 7-year-old sister, Christina, gave the account to child welfare workers May 24, two days after their older sister was found dead, a victim of the same wretched conditions that left all three children too brittle-boned and feeble to walk.

Their story, told for the first time in their own voices, is found in a court petition filed late last month by the state Division of Youth and Family Services.

The agency is seeking custody of Solomon and Christina from their mother, Venette Ovilde, charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of 8-year-old Christiana Glenn. A roommate, Myriam Janvier, is charged with child endangerment.

The document, reviewed by The Star-Ledger, amounts to a catalog of misery set against a backdrop of cultlike religious zealotry.

The petition details the children’s litany of injuries past and present, from scars to broken bones. It recounts the hours after police and paramedics arrived at the Irvington apartment, a scene so grim the responding medical examiner broke down in tears for the first time in his career.

Glenn mom
Venette Ovilde, left, and Myriam Janvier during an appearance in court. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger)

It suggests Janvier played a larger role in the abuse than authorities have let on, allegedly taking part in the beatings.

And it includes DYFS’ history with the family, raising new questions about the agency’s decision to close its case on Ovilde in 2008 after receiving four separate complaints over two years. In each instance, allegations of physical abuse and neglect were deemed unfounded.

To Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Newark-based group Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the DYFS investigations into Ovilde were not nearly aggressive enough, given the nature and specificity of the complaints.

“These were serious allegations of physical abuse,” said Zalkind, who was briefed on the petition’s contents. “It sounds like the DYFS worker went out, spoke to the mother, found no signs of visible abuse, and that was it. How else could it be unfounded? … How many times does the division need to get a referral from the neighbors and not link them?”

Read the full story at NJ.com (June 5, 2011)

(PDF Version)

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

➽ For 8-year-old Irvington girl who died, a short life bereft of toys, fun (May 27, 2011)

Two years before starvation made her bones as brittle as dead twigs, Christiana Glenn sat with her godparents in the office of a court-appointed counselor, explaining what life was like in her Irvington apartment.

Meals were soup and crackers. Always soup and crackers. That’s what Pastor Kris wanted, the godparents said Christiana, then 6, told the counselor.

What about toys, she was asked.

There were no toys, the girl answered. Christiana’s mother — “mommy sensei,” she called her — believed toys were “idols.”

And school?

“We don’t go to school,” the girl said, according to her godparents. “Pastor Kris teach us and we stay at home.”

And what did she do for fun?

Tommie and Mary McCoy said their goddaughter sighed deeply and didn’t respond.

The account of that meeting, held in West Orange in August 2009, offers an early glimpse into the spare, sheltered existence of a child who would later suffer an agonizing death, one brought on by severe malnutrition and complications of a badly broken leg.

As prosecutors and child welfare officials continued parallel investigations, the McCoys and their daughter, Channell Fields, spoke of their efforts to help Christiana, discovered dead by her mother on Sunday.

➽ Pastor’s sway stirs questions as police probe Irvington girl’s death (May 25, 2011)

In the barren rooms where the horror played out, all was white.

White paint on the walls and ceiling. White sheets and blankets on the floor. White cloth across the windows. White robes on the dead and dying children.

This was the makeshift house of worship where Venette Ovilde and her roommate practiced their unusual brand of faith, one espoused by a shrouded, would-be baker who called himself pastor and who held court during services there every day.

Once an ordinary apartment on a busy Irvington street, it is where authorities said 8-year-old Christiana Glenn, starved and gaunt, died of a broken femur that went untreated. And it is where Christiana’s two younger siblings — a 6-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl — slowly wasted away, their own broken bones unseen by a doctor.

As the investigation into Christiana’s death continued — and as relatives of Ovilde and her roommate spoke of the all-consuming influence wielded by the pair’s spiritual leader, Emanyel Rezireksyon Kris — the building’s landlord provided a detailed description of the apartment’s interior.

William Weathers, who said he had twice gone into the two-bedroom apartment to fix a leaky faucet in recent months, said it was all but devoid of furniture, with only a table and chairs in the kitchen and a foam mattress in the living room.

“Initially there was furniture. It was decorated,” said Weathers, 55, who rented the Chancellor Avenue apartment to Ovilde about five years ago. “When they transitioned to their religious thing, they took all of it out and put it on the curb.”

On his recent visits, Weathers was taken aback by the change, the all-white decor suggesting a kind of shrine. Ovilde attributed her changing lifestyle to a “spiritual awakening,” he said. (More)


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