A Bleak Life, Cut Short at 4, Harrowing From the Start

May 9, 2011  |  

(New York Times) — She died in September by the ugliest means, weighing an unthinkable 18 pounds, half what a 4-year-old ought to. She withered in poverty in a home in Brooklyn where the authorities said she had been drugged and often bound to a toddler bed by her mother, having realized a bare thimble’s worth of living.  The horrid nature of Marchella Pierce’s death produced four arrests. This week, Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, isconvening a grand jury to explore what he called “evidence of alleged systemic failures” in New York City’s child welfare agency, which had monitored the girl’s family.  An examination of Marchella’s bleak, fleeting life, drawn from interviews with relatives, neighbors and law enforcement authorities, as well as from legal documents, shows that almost nothing went right for her. She entered the world prematurely with underdeveloped lungs. When she was not in a hospital, she was being raised in the uproar of a helter-skelter, combative family struggling with drugs. And when she came under the watch of the city’sAdministration for Children’s Services, an agency remade a number of times after child deaths, her well-being fell to caseworkers who, prosecutors say, essentially ignored the family.  Marchella’s household was brought to the agency’s attention in late 2009, yet for several months after that it appears no one there knew that the girl, hospitalized for most of her life, even existed. After she was taken home from a nursing home, she was supposed to be looked after by not one but two sets of caseworkers, one set from the city and one from a private agency under contract to the city.

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