- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2007

The horror found in a New Carrollton basement on Sunday is no Hollywood “Home Alone” movie. This squalid situation of an immigrant family is not some film fantasy, and it’s surely not a joke.

“The firefighters were literally throwing up, and my stomach was turning,” said New Carrollton Police Chief David Rice of the indescribable filth found in an apartment where five boys ages 6 months to 6 years were home alone.

The boys and a dog where discovered amid animal feces, urine, roaches and molding food when the landlord smelled smoke from food burning.

Note, it was not the obvious stench of sewage that prompted the emergency call but the threat of fire. The suspicion that small children had been in peril for some unknown time must not have been enough to sound the alarm.

Behind the headlines, we must beg the question: What was happening in this home that caused a working mother to leave her young children to fend for themselves in the dead of night? Before we rush to judgment, a lot of important facts must be revealed. The children’s mother may not be the only culpable party.

For sure, someone in that neighborhood had to know something was amiss in the 7600 bock of Topton Street and did nothing to intervene to help this family or report the problem to authorities.

“This was not an overnight event; this has been ongoing for some time,” Chief Rice said.

And, the community?

Amara Eden, 31, the mother of the boys, was arrested Sunday and faces misdemeanor child neglect and animal cruelty charges.

Apparently, this Nigerian immigrant worked from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. at a nursing home, Chief Rice said. He was told, by her landlord, that Miss Eden had left the children alone before and stayed with a boyfriend until recently. Their father is in Africa.

Chief Rice said he became upset during her arrest because he thought Miss Eden asked more questions about her immigration status than about the condition or whereabouts of her children.

But she “freaked out” when she got to the jail and said if she had known that she was going to be arrested when she got home, “she would have been gone,” he said.

Her children were taken to a hospital for checkups and then placed in foster care.

Unable to post the $10,000 bail, Miss Eden is expected to appear before a Prince George’s County judge today. Prosecutors are still deciding whether to upgrade the charges to felonies.

And her landlords, listed as Azmat and Mohammed Asif, Chief Rice said, may be charged with having a home that is a public nuisance and a health hazard.

“They all have no place to live because I put a padlock on that house and posted signs that it was uninhabitable all over it,” said Chief Rice, who does not hide his disgust at the situation.

He said law-enforcement and county authorities are investigating whether the landlords were renting the basement illegally, were operating a day care illegally or were supposed to be supervising Miss Eden’s children. His officers had responded to two previous domestic abuse calls at the home but hadn’t noticed that there was a basement apartment. He added that neighbors may not have known that more than one family lived there.

But what of the oldest’s boy’s teachers? They didn’t have a clue either? Chief Rice also said that he wondered how the landlord could have ignored the stench or why, if she knew the children were being left alone, Mrs. Asif did not report this to child protective services.

There are many resources in Prince George’s County these days, Chief Rice said, but “you have to ask.”

Chief Rice said his heart went out to the oldest boy, who clearly has been taught that his siblings were his responsibility. One of the children suffers from a debilitating physical disorder. The 6-year-old was fixing one egg for a younger brother when the smoke overwhelmed them.

“I didn’t see a single diaper there,” Chief Rice said.

Of course, there is absolutely no excuse for allowing children to live in such squalor, especially when, Chief Rice said, Miss Eden appeared to be well-groomed and was driving a late model van.

“I don’t care how poor you are, you can still clean up after your own,” he said.

True. And, if this mother is found to be willfully abusive of these boys without any mitigating personal or psychological circumstances, then she gets no sympathy from me. Same goes for the neglectful landlord. Initially, I questioned whether this was another case in which the lack of affordable and safe child care was an issue, as it is for too many working single mothers and fathers.

We don’t know yet why Miss Eden had five children she apparently was incapable of or unwilling to care for. Perhaps she did not have a support system. Perhaps she did not have access to health care in her native country. Maybe she didn’t qualify for help here.

We also don’t know why Miss Eden did not pay her $500 a month rent for half a year or why the landlord allowed her to stay without payment.

What we do know is that voluntarily or involuntarily Miss Eden, and to some extent her landlord, made some choices that jeopardized the health and safety of five children.

Someone, not just this mother, must be held responsible for making these children whole again.

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