Nixzmary Brown

Nixzmary Brown, 7 years old, is dead and everybody cares about her now. Her mother and step-father care now because they are in jail, her neighbors care now and wish they had done more to help her, her siblings cared and tried to tell what was going on but were fearful, her doctor cares now, her school cared and tried to help her, Mayor Bloomberg cares now and Agency for Children’s Services (ACS) Commissioner John Mattingly cares now.

All the caring and not caring is too late now; Nixzmary needed this caring a long time ago. She never wanted to be a headline; she never wanted to be the reason everybody is making excuses today; she never wanted to be the reason her “parents” will probably go to prison; she never wanted to be the reason her 5 brothers and sisters will probably grow up in foster care. No, she just wanted to be loved and nurtured but the people and the city that were supposed to take care of her did not do it.

So Nixzmary died on January 11, 2006, beaten, starved, sexually abused, 36 pounds at 7 years old, tied to a chair in the bedroom, using a litter box for a bathroom, making excuses for her “parents” all along.

The parents: mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico. She met the step-father Cesar Rodriguez only 2 years ago. She had several children already but he is said to be the father of the 2 youngest and a child she miscarried recently, whose fetus she kept in a jar in the bedroom. This is a woman who wanted more children but could not care for or protect the ones she already had.

Nixzmary was a targeted child. Although the other 5 children were removed from the home it was obvious that Nixzmary was the one targeted by both parents. None of the other children were physically abused and starved to the extent she was, although there are reports a sister was also sexually abused. Targeting children for abuse is discussed further in Part 4 of the child abuse series on the NVFC. According to Jim Cameron, former director of New York State’s Child Protective Services, “in many cases, the scapegoated child is often adopted or a stepchild of the abuser – and the parent feels his or her behavior is more justified because of it.” “If they are not the biological parent, there could be a lack of attachment to that particular child, feeling that that child is separate from the new family,” said Allison Bressler, director of programs for Joe Torre Safe at Home.

Some quotes from articles in the New York Daily News:

From a neighbor

Eventually, Santiago confessed that Rodriguez would beat her. The neighbor counseled her to leave him but “she wanted to have a baby from him,” she said. By late November, Santiago was eight months pregnant, the neighbor said. The neighbor said she knew the kids had a rough life. At Christmas, tenants chipped in for dolls and action figures after Santiago complained that Rodriguez wouldn’t let her buy gifts. From time to time, she would spot a bruise or bump on one of the children – but it was always explained away by their mom. “She said the kids fell. She never told me it was him,” the neighbor said. “If I knew that, I would have called the police. They had an excuse for everything.”

This same neighbor the night Nixzmary was found dead

“Her face – it didn’t look like her no more,” she said. The neighbor said she looked at Santiago and demanded, “What happened to her face?” The mother offered an unforgivable response: “She did it to herself,” she lied.

From Nixzmary’s sister

During a closed-door interview at Public School 256, Selena bravely unmasked her stepdad as a brutal child abuser, the documents show, misspelling the father’s name. “Cedar did it,” Selena said as she pointed to a nearby window – a valuable clue that Nixzmary didn’t fall on “a piece of wood” as an older sibling and Rodriguez claimed. Unsure what Selena meant, an ACS caseworker asked her a second time. “Cedar did it,” Selena repeated.

From Nixzmary’s brother

Nearly eight months before a 7-year-old Brooklyn girl was killed, the girl’s older brother told a school guidance counselor looking into her frequent absences that she had “burnt her hand, hurt her leg and fell out of bed,” the authorities said yesterday.

From the principal of Nixzmary’s school

“Stepparent beats mother and he is intimidating,” it reads. “Mother is withdrawn and passive, taking no action to protect herself or children.” “Stepparent recently hit Nixzmary, causing laceration on her forehead and a bruised eye.” The account concludes by noting that the principal had “serious concern for their [the children’s] immediate safety.”

From Nixzmary’s step-father

Nixzmary’s stepdad, Cesar Rodriguez, who was charged with second-degree murder in her death, told police that the little girl was “wild,” pulling her siblings’ hair, throwing food on the floor – and having the nerve to eat her parents’ yogurt.

From Nixzmary herself

Perry Robinson, 49, said his 11-year-old cousin would play with Nixzmary in a nearby park. “I saw her with welts on her arms, and limping as she was walking,” Mr. Robinson said. He said that she told him that she had fallen. Other times, she explained the injuries differently, saying that Mr. Rodriguez had struck her, and had threatened that if she told anyone, he would kill her and her mother, Mr. Robinson said.

From the Agency for Children’s Services

The Daily News grills ACS chief John Mattingly about his agency’s failure to save the life of a tortured 7-year-old β€” We let her down badly, he says.

Now her grandmother Maria Gonzalez from Puerto Rico has the painful task of preparing for Nixzmary’s funeral, just like other grandparents who were helpless to intervene have had to do for other children like Evelyn Miller, Teketria Buggs, Alejandra Gutierrez and Harold Cheyenne Harris. Our sympathies go to her and other members of the family who are helping to lay Nixzmary to rest, never to be abused again.

“Oh, my God, she is going to look like an angel,” the second-grader’s aunt said of the white dress they bought.

Yes, Nixzmary is an angel now.