By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Merrial spent the first five years of Porsche's life searching for a home. "Every time she would lose an apartment 'cause she couldn't pay the bills, she would go to Ms. Tessie's," Clark says. "She was the only one who would accept her." Around this time Merrial also began using drugs. She sought treatment for her addiction and checked herself into Hialeah Hospital. There Merrial tested HIV-positive. DCF records suggest drug abuse may have continued well into her second pregnancy. Clark attests Merrial wasn't on coke while they dated but says her subsequent addiction persisted until her death. "I was shocked when I found out Merrial was doing drugs. Ms. Tessie raised her real good."
Merrial lived briefly with Clark's mother before moving into Tessie Massey's efficiency again in 1990. In May of that year she had her second child, Precious, who also had two men claiming to be her father. Porsche was attending Rainbow Park Elementary at the time.
Patricia Shaw, Porsche's fourth- and fifth-grade academic excellence program instructor, describes Porsche as a mature fourth-grader. "Porsche was very responsible," Shaw says. "I could count on her to carry out any task." The elementary teacher, who would sometimes give Porsche a ride home after school, stayed in touch with her former student throughout the years. "She was my sweetheart. She was a very special child, scholarship potential." Shaw last saw Porsche in May. "I asked her, 'How's the boyfriend?' She said, 'Ms. Shaw, there's no boyfriend,'" says Shaw, imitating Porsche's wispy voice. "When I heard what happened to her on the news, I just sat in front of the television and cried. I wasn't surprised when Porsche became pregnant, but this wasn't anything I would ever expect."
While living with her great-grandmother Massey, Porsche began staying out late, and when she turned eleven years old, she became pregnant. Clark, who says he accompanied Porsche to her first gynecological visit, contacted DCF in 1995, about three months into her pregnancy. He reported Merrial's alleged drug problem and complained that Porsche had too much freedom. A DCF activity log shows that Clark accused Merrial of giving their daughter permission to stay out until 3:00 a.m. Merrial denied everything. She informed DCF protective investigator Tangela Amos that Porsche was only allowed to go out to the movies with neighborhood friends and had a 10:00 p.m. curfew. The mother of three admitted to a substance-abuse problem in the past, but assured Amos she was clean. "I only drink beer now," Merrial told Amos. Massey also denied that her granddaughter used drugs in their Opa-locka home. "She didn't bring it around here," she remembers, but says Clark's accusations were not unfounded. "I told Merrial she was making a big mistake by letting Porsche go around with them grown girls," Massey says. She also contends Porsche would visit a boyfriend, known as Fatboy, presumably the father of Porsche's child. But members of Porsche's immediate family say they wouldn't know Arrington Veagris, a.k.a. Fatboy, if he were standing in front of them.
Charles Auslander, DCF's district director, recognizes the state agency's investigation into Porsche's life was inadequate. "It is not effective investigation to me to have the alleged abuser simply assert to the investigator, 'I'm not using drugs,' and as a consequence, for the investigator to conclude that there was proper risk assessment done," Auslander says. "That would not be satisfactory."
In the 1995 report, Clark told Amos he wanted custody of Porsche. But Amos concluded there was no evidence to support Clark's allegations of neglect, so she referred him to family court. Clark says he became discouraged by Merrial's unsupportive family and the prospect of a long legal battle. "I went through a lot to get Porsche to come live with me, so I blame a lot of people for her death," Clark says gravely. "I feel like if I had her she would still be here."
Amos counseled Porsche and her mother on how to deal with pregnancy; Merrial informed the caseworker she was arranging for Porsche to get an abortion. In the end Amos concluded the family was low risk, closed the case with DCF, and referred it to Family Builders, a Miami Dade Department of Human Services program that contracts with DCF.
This short-term service designed for families who supposedly need only limited help reopened the case in early 1996. Family Builders, whose primary goal is to keep children home with families, had the Williams case for three months. Upon closure they made some recommendations to the family. A caseworker advised Merrial to obtain her GED, continue counseling (they gave her a telephone number where she could call to make an appointment), and assist Porsche in meeting her gynecological appointments. Family Builders also helped Merrial apply for public housing. Three months later they conducted a followup, and according to Paula Bain, director for the division of family preservation and family support services at the Department of Human Services, "the family was doing as fine as could be expected in their situation." But Merrial never sought counseling, and Bain doesn't know whether she earned her GED.