Children under the care of the Watts-based Ecclesia Athletic Assn. watched the fatal beating of the 8-year-old daughter of the group’s founder, authorities said Wednesday.
“They watched the beating, after which she died,” Clackamas County Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Dennis Miller said, referring to the death of Dayna Broussard, the daughter of Ecclesia founder Eldridge Broussard Jr.
According to Miller, some of the 55 children now in protective custody have told sheriff’s deputies and juvenile authorities that they watched the flogging.
However, Miller said he did not know how many children saw the beating, and also said he did not know if the girl died in front of her peers. It is possible, he said, that she died while on the way to a local fire station, where four Ecclesia members showed up early Friday morning with her body.
The death prompted a homicide and child abuse investigation in which seven Ecclesia members are now being held, four on charges of manslaughter. After the girl’s death, the state discovered the 55 children in a sparsely furnished farmhouse near Sandy, 25 miles east of Portland, where, authorities allege, the youngsters were left unfed and regularly abused.
Broussard, meanwhile, flew from Portland to Chicago on Wednesday to appear on the Oprah Winfrey television show today. At an airport news conference, he blamed the media for his daughter’s death.
“If we had not had the kind of reporting that we have been getting, my daughter would not have died so tragically,” Broussard said. He said problems created by negative publicity about his group forced him to be in Los Angeles last week.
“I’m usually there watching what’s happening,” he said. “My not being there allowed an unfortunate situation to happen with my daughter.”
The fate of efforts to reunite the Ecclesia children with their parents remained unclear. Many of the parents had scheduled interviews with the Children’s Services Division for Tuesday morning, but in the afternoon Ecclesia officials called and canceled the appointments.
Bart Wilson, a manager for the Oregon Children’s Services Division, said Ecclesia members canceled after learning that Broussard would fly to Chicago to appear on the Winfrey program.
Debra DiMaio, executive producer of the Winfrey show, said four parents from Ecclesia will also be on the show, along with two grandparents who are opposed to the group.
DiMaio said she was unaware that Broussard and Ecclesia members had canceled meetings with state officials after being invited to Chicago.
Now Aware of Commitments
“We’re concerned about the welfare of the children that are in protective custody right now,” she said. “At the time of the request, we were not aware of any other commitments he might have to cancel.”
According to court documents filed this week, children at Ecclesia’s house were routinely beaten with a paddle or electrical cord up to 800 times while other youngsters were told to count the strokes.
Broussard founded both Ecclesia and the Watts Christian Center in Los Angeles. The athletic group claims to train ghetto children for sporting events such as the Olympics.