In his first interview, with The New York Times, the father of the girl, a 57-year-old carpenter named Juan, said he became aware of his daughter’s abuse in late November, when she arrived home at 3 or 4 a.m. after having slipped out without permission. She was shaking and weeping when her mother opened the door to their small white frame house, he said, and she immediately closed herself in her room.
Later in the day, she told her mother she had been raped after her parents found sexually explicit photos that had been sent to her father’s cellphone, which she had been using. She told her father that the men had threatened to kill her.
Juan, whose last name is being withheld to protect his daughter’s identity, said his wife reported the crime to the police three days later, but in court documents the Cleveland Police Department said it was first alerted on Dec. 3 by school authorities.
Juan said his daughter had been a bright and easygoing girl, adept at schoolwork. As she reached puberty, he said, she had grown tall for her age and had begun to talk about wanting to be a fashion model. Yet she was still a child; her bed was piled high with stuffed animals. “Her mind is a child’s mind,” he said. “That’s what makes me so angry.”
That’s what should be making everyone so angry. Regardless of how this child looked — she is a child — she could not legally give consent and the sick fawks who sexually abused her should be put under the jail for what they did.
What happened to that child ultimately changed her for life. People who knew her describe how her behavior changed once she was attacked.
“She has always been a really bubbly child,” said Brenda Myers, director of the Community and Children’s Impact Center, who worked with her. “She always had a smile on her face.”
But in October, just after starting sixth grade, the girl became withdrawn, Ms. Myers said, and in November, she stopped attending the center’s meetings.
Some folks seem to think her parents should have kept better tabs on her. The harsh reality is that her family was incredibly poor and dealing with numerous difficulties.
A 36-year-old cousin of the girl, who lived next door, said her family was in dire economic straits since Juan stopped working. The water and electricity had been cut off at times in recent months.
The house is empty now. Two weeks ago, the family moved to another town after detectives told the parents that they were in danger, Juan said.
The father said he had been worried about his daughter’s safety for months before the assaults. She had been sneaking out of the house two or three nights a week, he said, climbing out a bedroom window. Some nights she would come home as late as 11 p.m. or midnight, saying she had visited girlfriends. He said he and his wife had scolded her almost daily.
Both parents are plagued with health problems. Juan injured his back in November 2009 and has not held a steady job since. A diabetic, he receives disability checks of $700 a month. His wife, 42, was told last year that she had a mass in her brain, and a doctor had said it should be removed, friends said. She suffers frequent headaches and fainting spells.
Yet she put off surgery and continued to work at night at a cashier at an underground gambling parlor, friends said. “She wasn’t interested in living,” said Maria Luisa Lopez, a longtime friend. “She felt very sad.”
Two months ago, when the arrests started, the state Child Protective Services placed the girl, who had also received threats, in a foster home. “They told her it was best that they take her away from this town,” Ms. Lopez said.
A case worker has informed Juan that he and his wife must attend family therapy sessions to regain custody. Juan said he was despondent at the prospect of losing his daughter permanently. He said that she was doing well but that she was still fearful. “You can see she’s not happy,” he said. Then he added, “She will never recover from this.”
This is a damned shame. We pray that poor child gets the help and therapy she needs.