WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The mayor of Washington and other officials said Friday that city government failed four children whose decomposing bodies were found this week in their mother's home.
Mayor Adrian Fenty called the lapses "egregious," saying at a news conference that social workers prematurely closed their files on a family that struggled on the fringes since arriving in the city in December 2005.
The parents asked for food stamps and were turned down. They asked for housing assistance and were turned down again, officials said.
And, during repeated contacts with city agencies, there were warning signs that the family was in deep trouble, Fenty said.
Those red flags included reports from a nurse in July 2006 that both parents were substance abusers and that the children were living in a van, the mayor said. The case was closed because the family did not have a fixed address -- the opposite of what should have happened, Fenty said.
In March, the children stopped attending school after their father died in a Maryland hospice.
In May, the mayor said, a suspicious school social worker alerted Metropolitan Police that the mother might be holding a truant child "hostage." But the officer reported back that the children appeared to be healthy and were being home-schooled.
Then the family dropped off the social service agency radar.
On Wednesday, the family surfaced again, tragically, when four decomposing bodies were found by U.S. marshals serving an eviction notice.
The mayor said the city is conducting an audit of all 306 cases that were closed in 2007. He said city employees could face firing if they are found to be responsible for lapses in policy and accepted agency practices.
Banita Jacks, 33, was charged Thursday with three counts of felony murder and one count of first-degree murder while armed. She told police she believed the children were possessed by demons, according to court documents.
Court documents said Jacks identified the victims as her daughters Brittany Jacks, 17; Tatianna Jacks, 11; N'kiah Fogle, 6; and Aja Fogle, 5.
Marie Pierre-Louis, Washington's chief medical examiner, said all four girls had been dead for at least 15 days.
Jacks is being held without bail. Her next court appearance is scheduled for February 11. If convicted, she could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Jacks told police that each daughter died in her sleep during a seven- to 10-day period, court documents said. Aja died first, she told police, then N'kiah, Tatianna and Brittany.
"She said that as the first three younger children died, she placed them side by side in the room in which they died," according to court documents.
She reported that all the deaths occurred sometime before the electricity in her house was disconnected, which records show was September 5, documents said.
Jacks said she never tried to call authorities to remove the bodies "because she didn't trust either agency and because she thought if she notified emergency personnel, that would cause her more problems," the documents said.
She also said she had not fed her daughters food "for a substantial period of time prior to their deaths."
No one besides herself or the children had been in the home since May, Jacks said.
Pierre-Louis ruled the deaths homicides, according to a court document. Watch the medical examiner describe the condition of the bodies »
Preliminary findings are that Brittany was stabbed to death and that Aja died from blunt-force impact to the back of her head and possible ligature strangulation.
Both Tatianna and N'kiah also had "apparent ligature evidence" on their necks that was "somewhat more defined than that noted on Aja Fogle's neck," court documents said.
However, the documents said, further tests are needed to confirm the causes of the deaths.
All four children were wearing white T-shirts and were discovered in unfurnished bedrooms -- three in one and a fourth in another, the documents said.
"What appeared to be a metal steak knife" was found next to the fourth. Also, the fourth body was found in a bedroom with hardwood floors, and a T-shirt with duct tape was found at the bottom of the bedroom door, filling the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door when it was closed.
A witness told police they saw Jacks treat Brittany differently from her other children, sometimes withholding food from her while feeding the others, court documents said. E-mail to a friend
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