“She had expressed suicidal ideations to a school counselor,” says Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman, who serves as a spokesman for the area prosecutor’s office. “She was apparently very, very close to her 8-year-old sister and apparently asked, ‘If I kill myself, will I still see my sister?’ “
According to school records, officials at John Dilbert were so nervous, they assigned a school aide to shadow Brandajah. The aide’s job: never leave the 5-year-old alone, not even for a trip to the bathroom, according to Bowman. (The school’s principal did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Prosecutors allege that Brandajah’s mother was well-aware of the school’s concerns. School records indicate that the mother had been warned that staying with her cousin — a felon who has since been charged with illegal possession of a gun — simply was not safe.
Pierre says that he was unaware of Brandajah’s troubles at school; he says no one shared the information in the school files with him until after his daughter’s death. He also says that he did not see his daughter as often as he would have because his relationship with her mother was strained.
“Reading some of the things in that [school] file, they made my stomach turn,” he says. “I had no idea all of this was going on. But I wish to God that I had.”
Falling Through The Cracks
Ladericka Smith’s criminal record and limited education made it difficult for her to get a job, her family member said. According to the relative, Smith, 28, also tried but wasn’t able to sign up for welfare benefits. Smith is part of a large group of Louisianans who have been rejected from welfare rolls in the state.
Thanks to welfare reform in the 1990s, some states, such as Louisiana, have drastically slashed aid, primarily by making it very hard for people to apply for cash assistance and the other aid it often leads to, such as housing and child care, according to Donna Pavetti, vice president for family income support policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
By 2010 only 7 out of every 100 poor families in Louisiana were receiving cash welfare payments, according to federal data.
But lack of money wasn’t Smith’s only problem, her family member says.
Sometimes Smith’s priorities seemed out of whack, the relative said. She argued with her family, but her children always mattered, the relative added. The girls — two of Smith’s three children and the only ones in her care — were almost always clean and well dressed, with their hair arranged in precise ponytails.
But on that morning when Smith dashed out for her milk run, she later told police, she didn’t immediately head home. Instead, she told police, she got distracted, stopping en route to watch a street fight. Prosecutors also say Smith knew that the gun was in the house, that it was frequently kept under a pillow or on a shelf, unlocked and possibly accessible to little, curious hands.