Nixzmary Brown was tortured, starved and beaten to death, allegedly at the hands of her mother and stepfather, despite the fact that her teachers, child welfare officials and neighbors were aware of the ongoing abuse.
Wednesday's death of the 7-year-old girl in her Brooklyn apartment -- where she had been tied to a chair with twine -- has raised concerns about the New York Administration for Children's Services' ability to protect abused children. Amid the finger-pointing are promises to prevent further tragedies as the city continues to cope with the horrifying case.
The girl was "tortured," prosecutor Ama Dwimoh told reporters outside court. "She was beaten repeatedly," Dwimoh said. "She was bound like an animal."
Autopsy results released today show the child was clearly the victim of child abuse. The specific cause of death was blunt force impact to the head that caused a subdural hematoma -- a blood clot in her brain. She weighed less than 40 pounds when she died.
The girl's stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, accused of binding, beating and molesting her, was arraigned Thursday on charges of second-degree murder, sex abuse and child endangerment. Her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, was arraigned on second-degree manslaughter and child endangerment charges.
Both were held without bail. Telephone calls from The Associated Press to their defense attorneys were not immediately returned.
The abuse of Nixzmary did not go unnoticed. Just a few weeks ago, school officials complained to child welfare authorities about excessive absences, even suspicious bruises, but there was no follow-up visit.
"Since early December, the school staff kept ACS apprised regarding absences and the staff's inability to contact the family," Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said.
In addition, on Dec. 1 there was a report from someone claiming to have seen the girl with a swollen eye. A doctor concluded the injury was consistent with an explanation that she had fallen, but the ACS kept the case open and kept trying to contact the parents.
Neighbors said they also noticed unexplained injuries and said the child appeared malnourished and small for her age.
The end came Wednesday, when Nixzmary's mother told authorities she found the girl unconscious around 4 a.m. and called 911. The child was dead at the scene.
Investigators said there was evidence the girl had been bound by her ankles to a chair. They suspect the stepfather delivered a fatal blow to the child's head while dunking her in a bathtub as punishment, police said.
Under questioning, the stepfather tried to portray the girl as a problem child, police said. Five other children living in the apartment, ages 6 months to 9 years, have been placed in the custody of the child welfare agency.
Outrage and Promises
As details of Nixzmary's abuse emerged, child welfare officials admitted the system had failed her and launched an immediate review of thousands of other cases citywide.
ACS Commissioner John Mattingly told the Associated Press, in Nixzmary's case, the family was uncooperative, ignoring repeated phone calls from caseworkers and turning them away at the door. He said the agency should have obtained a court order to enter the home.
"We were in a position to have kept this from happening," Mattingly said, "and that did not happen."
Nixzmary's death followed that of three other children known to the agency: a 7-year-old died in October after her father allegedly kneed her in the stomach and beat her with a belt over two days; an infant drowned in November in a bathtub while his mother, who pleaded not guilty Friday to manslaughter charges, allegedly listened to CDs in another room; and a 1-year-old was allegedly beaten to death in December by his mother.
In his weekly radio show today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to resolve the system's failures. "Once we get through this," Bloomberg said, "I want to look at whether or not all these agencies, the department of education, ACS, all of the social services, are talking to each other adequately."
Meanwhile, the community tries to come to terms with a little girl's death that seems to have been easily prevented. A memorial to her continues to grow.
"What do you got to have? Another hundred more times?" said A.J. Ortiz, a neighbor. "Kids that got to die and wind up like this? It's no good."
ABC affiliate WABC in New York and the Associated Press contributed to this report.