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#5313: Troubled girl touches lives by her absence... (fwd)
Published Sunday, October 15, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Troubled girl touches lives by her absence
State now sheltering Haitian `slave,' 13 BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
The mayor of Opa-locka sent her doll babies and toy dishes. A city
commissioner took her on family outings. A secretary at the police
department gave her a bicycle. And the police officer who broke the case
gave her a home. An entire community came to her rescue. But in the end,
``Little Hope,'' the 12-year-old Haitian girl who said she was
beaten, raped and worked as a slave inside a $400,000 Pembroke Pines
home, ended right back where her story began a year ago -- in the hands
of the state. ``She remains in the custody of the department,'' Lynette
Beal, spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families in Broward
County. That's all that Beal will say, citing confidentiality rules.
The case, which launched a federal investigation into whether Marie and
Willy Pompee Sr. imported the girl as a slave, remains open.
Both Willy Pompee Sr., 44, and his son Willy Pompee Jr., 21, who is
accused by Pembroke Pines Police and the Broward state attorney's office
of repeatedly sexually abusing the girl, are presumably in Haiti, where
both fled after authorities began zeroing in. Marie Pompee, who has
moved out of the Pembroke Pines home, has not been charged. She could
not be reached for comment, although officials say she remains in South
Florida. ``It is still a pending investigation,'' FBI spokeswoman Judy
Orihuela said. ``The father and son are fugitives from state charges. We
haven't filed any charges at all at this point.''
All this offers little comfort to the two women -- Opa-locka Police
officer Cheryl Odom and the Rev. Jimmye Larkin -- who opened their homes
to the little girl whose only recollection of her own mother was of her
lying in a casket in Haiti, dead from AIDS. ``I pray for her all the
time,'' said Odom, a 19-year-veteran of the Opa-locka Police
who was the first to take the abuse allegations seriously. ``The whole
city adopted her.'' ``From the time I laid eyes on her, she just fell
into my arms and started crying,'' said Larkin, 60, the first of the
women to become her foster mom. ``She said, `I want to go home with
you.' '' Neither Odom nor Larkin knows for sure where the girl is. She
turned 13 in January. Several months ago, child-welfare workers told
Odom the girl was living in an institution in Tampa. The two women have
been told nothing since.
HOPES FOR REUNION
``I hope she is well, and I hope to be reunited with her. I will find
her,'' Odom said. ``The last thing I told her was, `If you ever get away
from me, come to the Opa-locka Police Department.' Odom, 43, first met
the girl, nicknamed ``Little Hope'' by Miami's Haitian
community,after the police were called Sept. 28, 1999, to the Florida
International Academy in Opa-locka, a charter school where the girl was
enrolled. Principal Sonya Mitchell called after seeing the girl holding
her stomach as if in pain. Mitchell later said she had made five calls
to the Department of Children and Families ``with negative results.''
Odom, who worked in Opa-locka's Crimes Against Children Unit, went to
the school and found a withdrawn, frightened 12-year-old who described
the life of a restavec -- the Creole word meaning ``to stay with'' that
describes a form of servitude forced on many poor Haitian children in
exchange for room and board, and sometimes an education. The girl said
she was brought to the United States from Haiti at age 9 to work as a
slave for the Pompees.
TALE OF DEGRADATION
The girl, whose mother had once worked as a maid for members of the
Pompee family, said she was forced to clean house, fed very little, made
to sleep on the bathroom floor and repeatedly sexually assaulted by her
``stepbrother,'' Willy Pompee Jr. The girl also said she was called a
``slut'' and ``whore,'' and told she was ugly and stupid. Before
Mitchell's call, several employees of the John Casablancas Modeling &
Career Center in Fort Lauderdale reported the girl's claims. They had
spoken to the girl by telephone several times after she answered a TV
advertisement. No arrests were made. ``Poor thing, I felt so sorry for
her,'' said Odom, who got the youngster to open up and right away began
looking for a foster home. That's when she met Larkin and
her now-deceased husband, Floyd, of New Fellowship Christian Center in
Opa-locka. The couple had two other teen foster girls living with them.
``I told Detective Odom I would love to see this little girl, she
sounds like she needs love,'' Larkin recalled.
BECAME A RUNAWAY
But the Larkins had to wait. It wasn't until the girl ran away from the
DCF facility in Fort Lauderdale that she was placed with them, Larkin
said. ``I was at church, and the police came looking for me, saying she
had run away and would I take her,'' Larkin said. ``I got there at 10:30
that night. She had nothing much except for a bag with stuffed
animals.'' Once the girl moved in, Larkin said she realized how badly
damaged the youngster was. There was the vaginal odor that wouldn't go
away, which Larkin suspected was from gonorrhea the girl had contracted.
The baths -- at least three in the afternoons -- with the water running
nonstop for at least 15 minutes. And the low self-esteem.
``She bathed all the time. You never had to tell her it's time to take
her bath. She would stay in there, scrub and rub. She felt like she was
never cleaned,'' Larkin said. `` `I am so ugly,' she would say, staring
at herself in the mirror. She had this smooth black skin. I would tell
her, `No you aren't ugly. You are pretty.' ``They really mistreated
her,'' Larkin said. ``She would break down and start crying and
trembling. She had such an infection, you could tell they had used her
for a sex machine. It was awful, I had never seen anything like that.''
After living with the Larkins for several months, the girl moved in
with Odom, who had become a surrogate godmother. Odom said she had
agreed to keep her while the Larkins made arrangements to care for the
girl permanently. In Odom's three-bedroom home in Opa-locka, the girl
got another instant family. Odom's husband, Arthur Cason; her daughter,
Shaquellia ``Shasha'' Holmes, who also was 12 at the time; and mother
Lillie Odom all pitched in. ``She had a few problems,'' Cason, 45, said.
``But I think with time, she probably could have been helped.''
But Cason and Odom said Cheryl's need to devote time to work
contributed to their inability to really help the youngster.
``I wish I didn't have this job,'' Cheryl Odom said. ``She needs
somebody that can go to therapy with her, she needs someone who could be
there full time.' While the girl got along fine with older children,
Odom and Larkin said she often had problems with other 12-year-olds.
When asked by her stepfather how they were getting along, Shasha used
the word ``combative'' to describe the youngster, Cason said.
Still, Shasha said she tried to help. Shasha introduced her to the mall
and Metrorail, while the girl showed her how to stack pots -- one of
many chores she had mastered while living with the Pompees.
``I felt really bad for her,'' Shasha, 13, said. ``Nobody should go
through the pain she went through.' Every week, Odom said, she would
take her to get her hair done. ``You should have seen my baby, she was
pretty,'' Odom said. But after a couple of months, more problems arose.
Attached to Odom, the girl would call her 15 times a day at work, asking
when she would come home, Cason said. She demanded one-on-one attention.
At the same time, authorities began to doubt her story, saying she gave
conflicting information, including tales of sex with neighborhood
children and sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to
Odom said the different stories may not have been the girl's fault.
Although a doctor dismissed her suspicion that the girl suffered from a
multiple-personality disorder, Odom said she acted as if she were two
different people. ``What I mean is someone would give her a gift and she
would be thrilled and happy,'' Odom recalled. ``Then we would get home,
and just like that this other person would emerge. `Who gave me this? I
am not a charity case,' she would say. She would even hide things from
herself and not remember where she put them.' The last time Odom saw the
girl was in March. The girl broke down in the shower at the Odom home,
crying hysterically about losing her hair. The youngster, who was on
medication to control hallucinations, also cried that she was hearing
voices. ``She was crying and holding her head. `These voices, these
voices,' she kept saying,'' Odom said. `` `I don't want to do what they
tell me to do.' I asked her, `What are they telling you to do?' `They
tell me to kill.' '' Odom immediately took her to Jackson Hospital. Odom
said she was advised by a doctor that it was unsafe to bring the girl
back into her home, and the child was returned to state custody. But
even with that diagnosis, Odom still wants her back, she said. In the
beginning, the girl called every day, Odom said: ``She would say,
`Mommie, I want to come home.' Now she never calls.