- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

Four emaciated boys found in a New Jersey home in early October have gained a combined 50 pounds, state officials yesterday told a House oversight hearing.

This indicates that just four weeks of “a proper diet” have helped these boys significantly, Vincent P. Sarubbi, Camden County, N.J., prosecutor, told the House Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources.

The boys, who spent most of their lives in foster care until their adoptions in the mid-1990s, weighed from 23 pounds to 45 pounds when police were called to their Collingswood home on Oct. 10, Mr. Sarubbi said.

Police arrived after a neighbor called about a “young boy” going through his trash, looking for food, at 2 a.m. They were shocked to find that the 4-foot-tall youth was 19 years old.

Today, the eldest boy weighs 63 pounds, the 14-year-old weighs 56.5 pounds, the 10-year-old weighs almost 40 pounds, and the 9-year-old weighs 32 pounds, said Colleen Maguire, deputy commissioner for children’s services at the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

Ms. Maguire, Mr. Sarubbi and Keith Ryan, the state’s newly appointed child advocate, also told the panel that the boys’ steady weight gain demonstrates that they were abused while in the care of their adoptive parents, Raymond and Vanessa Jackson.

The Jacksons have been charged with child endangerment and causing bodily harm to the boys. They are free on bail. Two adopted daughters and a foster girl — all apparently healthy — who lived with the family have been placed elsewhere.

Yesterday, the Jacksons’ pastor, the Rev. Harry Thomas Jr., told the House panel the parents are innocent and have been maligned by lies told by the eldest boy.

The Jacksons regularly brought the four boys and their other children to the Come Alive New Testament Church in Medford, N.J., Mr. Thomas said.

All the children were well-dressed, well-behaved, energetic and happy, he said, offering photos and a videotape of the boys dancing in a church performance.

The Jacksons always have said the boys’ low weights were because of eating disorders, and the 19-year-old has been removed from several schools because of bizarre eating behaviors, Mr. Thomas testified.

When asked what he thought of the boys’ steady weight gain, Mr. Thomas said that he had seen the boys’ weights “fluctuate” before and that “anyone would gain weight” if he spent days in a hospital under round-the-clock care.

Mr. Thomas’ firm defense of the Jacksons seemed to gall some members.

It’s unbelievable that “a man of the cloth” would defend parents like these, said Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat. “They’re wrong. These children are victims.”

“If someone treated a dog this way, they’d be locked up,” said Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican.

Rep. Wally Herger, California Republican and subcommittee chairman, said that as a father of nine children, he found the hearing to be “the most alarming” he had ever attended. His panel is planning another hearing next week on national foster care issues.

New Jersey’s child-welfare system, meanwhile, will be undergoing intense state and federal scrutiny. Ms. Maguire said the Jackson family had received 38 visits from no fewer than five social workers, and “none of them, apparently, voiced any concern about the boys.”

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