Metro

Yvonne Abraham

How could nobody have known?

Maybe the Department of Children and Families will be spared the usual barrage of blame on this one.

Those poor kids living in a hell-hole of a house in Blackstone were not under their care, they said. They did receive a call about the family, in 2007, and visited their home. The Department maintains a social worker did a thorough investigation, but found next to nothing amiss, and did not open a file on the family.

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So maybe we are not looking at a failure by this beleaguered state agency. Which means we must confront something even more terrifying: That, sometime after they visited, Erika Murray dragged her children down into a years-long abyss, from which nobody saved them.

What we know so far about what those kids endured is too gut-wrenching to contemplate. The squalor alone is unthinkable – filthy diapers piled high, vermin, the remains of animals, a house so disgusting it has been condemned.

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Yet that is the least of it. Three dead infants were hidden away in the house. A five-month-old and a three-year-old were found alive, but not really living, subjected to an isolation so absolute that it has stunted them. Two older children lived in the midst of this misery but somehow made it to school each day.

And yet, if we are to believe DCF and the police, who said they’d had no previous contact with the family, nobody knew. Or if someone did know, they didn’t report it.

That is so amazing as to beggar belief. It means Murray got away with living a double life, allegedly presiding over her house of horrors for years. For years. Nobody saw through her cover. Not police, stationed just seconds away from the fetid house. Not her relatives, or her friends, if she had any. Not her neighbors in the small community, who stood outside her house in shock Thursday. Not the teachers who cared for the older children, ages 10 and 13. Not the father of her children, who lived in the basement and made the bizarre claim that he had no idea the two youngest children existed.

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Could all of this really be possible? Could Jennifer Johnson, who until recently lived a street away from Murray’s unfortunate children, be right that a community could be so close to something this awful and fail to see or stop it?

“If our communities, especially smaller communities, were more open and not so full of blinders and into our own issues, maybe we could have seen or spoken up or had that courage,” she said, standing outside the courthouse after Murray’s arraignment this morning.

It would be so much easier to make sense of this if Johnson’s lament were unfounded. So much easier to understand if neighbors had reported the mother, and DCF messed up. So much less painful to think that the poor babies living in that hell were failed by somebody whose job it was to save them, instead of ordinary citizens like us.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.
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