vigil for victims of 'senseless' act
About 30 people gathered Thursday night on the front lawn of the Rock Hill National Guard Armory in a vigil sponsored by Silentlambs, a support group for Jehovah's Witnesses who are victims of abuse.
They came to honor the Meza children -- Jayro, 5, Denise, 8, and Denia, 14 -- who were found dead with their throats cut after a fire destroyed their Crestview Drive home Aug. 9.
Police say the crime was carried out by one of the parents, Jose "Denis" and Marbely Meza, who also died in the blaze. All belonged to a local Jehovah's Witness congregation.
Authorities say Denia Meza was sexually abused within five days of her death. Her father had been arrested a few weeks before on charges he molested her.
"We can't change what happened, but, hopefully, people will do a better job of listening to children," said Libby Sweatt-Lambert, executive director of the Children's Attention Home. "This was senseless."
Bill Bowen, director of Silentlambs, led the group in a moment of silence and invited donations to a scholarship fund to benefit Janet, the 11-year-old daughter of Marbely Meza who lives in Nicaragua , as well as other local aid agencies.
"We're holding this vigil to find some kind of meaning in why this happened," Bowen told the audience. "These were three little lives that were taken needlessly."
Relatives of the Meza family stood off to one side, clutching candles as their young children wandered nearby.
Matt Garfield • 329-4063
Posted on Fri, Sep. 10, 2004
Candlelight ceremony held in honor of slain children
ROCK HILL - A national support group for sexually abused children held a candlelight vigil Thursday tonight to honor three killed children from York County .
The service was sponsored by Silent Lambs, a support group for abused children in "religious institutional settings."
The Meza family were members of a Rock Hill Jehovah's Witnesses church. The children -- Jayro, 5; Denise, 8; and Denia, 14 - died Aug. 9 before a fire engulfed their home. Authorities say they were slain by one of their parents -- Marbely or Jose Denis Meza -- who died in the fire. The case is still under investigation.
Jose Denis Meza had been arrested three weeks before on charges he molested Denia. Officials say she was also raped within five days of her death.
A national spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses church said Jose Denis Meza "confessed" to church officials about sexually abusing his daughter, but he stressed that church officials turned that information over to York County authorities.
Bill Bowen, director of Silent Lambs and a former Jehovah's Witnesses elder from Calvert City, Ky., announced Wednesday in Rock Hill the establishment of the Meza Children Memorial Fund.
Half of the money raised will go to a surviving Meza sibling in Nicaragua .
The other half will go to local charities and to help cover the family's funeral costs.
The vigil was held at the Rock Hill National Guard Armory.
Also Thursday, the group delivered stuffed toy lambs to three local congregations of the Jehovah's Witnesses church, including information for church members on how to report sexual abuse to local authorities.
Kentucky Lake Times
Jehovah's witness charged with molestation and murder of own children
national support group for abused children is coming to York County to
bring attention to the recent murders of three children, one of whom was
raped in the days before her death.
awareness group plans vigil for Meza children
By Jason Foster The Herald
(Published September 2‚ 2004)
A group devoted to protecting abused children will spread its message in Rock Hill next week, one month to the day after three Hispanic children were killed in their home, presumably by one of their parents.
Silentlambs, a national support group for Jehovah's Witnesses who are victims of abuse, will hold a candlelight vigil Sept. 9 at the National Guard Armory on Museum Road .
The group wants to bring more attention to the deaths of Jayro, Denise and Denia Meza, who were found dead with their throats cut after a fire destroyed their Crestview Drive home Aug. 9. Authorities say the crime was carried out by one of the parents, Joe "Denis" and Marbely Meza, who also died in the blaze. All belonged to a local Jehovah's Witness church.
Authorities also say Denia was sexually abused within five days of her death. Her father had been arrested a few weeks before on charges he molested her.
"The recent deaths and abuse allegations surrounding the Meza children have been a source of great concern and sorrow in the Rock Hill community," said Faith Lingerfeldt of York, a local Silentlambs representative.
Lingerfeldt said she and other members of Silentlambs believe instances of abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses often go unreported because church leaders don't want the faith to get a bad reputation.
"A lot of times, they keep it between themselves," said Lingerfeldt, 35, a lifelong Jehovah's Witness. "It's just kept quiet."
The deaths of the Meza children were just the latest example of similar crimes involving Jehovah's Witnesses, Silentlambs officials say.
"This makes the fifth family that had died under similar circumstances," William Bowen, Silentlambs' national director, said in a statement. "The public and Jehovah's Witnesses need to be alerted about the importance of proper child protection."
Bowen's statement did not give examples of other similar deaths. However, his group's Web site, www.silentlambs.org, lists the Meza deaths along with what it says were similar crimes involving Jehovah's Witnesses in Atlanta , Oregon and Canada , among others.
Bowen's stance on the Jehovah's Witness church also is detailed on the site, and his allegations about the church have been documented in The New York Times and on CNN, NBC and other media outlets. Bowen, a Jehovah's Witness for more than 40 years, writes on the Web site that he resigned as an elder in the church "in protest of a policy that hides child molesters from everyone."
But church leaders adamantly refute his claims.
"We're still very much grieving the loss of those kids down there," said J.R. Brown, a spokesman at the church's Brooklyn , N.Y. , public information office. "We have no policy that instructs our elders or congregants that cases of child sexual abuse are not to be reported. Our policy states just the opposite."
If a member of the congregation suspects abuse, they are to report to a church elder, Brown said. The elders then consult with church attorneys about whether a particular state requires the allegations be reported to authorities.
In the Meza case, Brown said church leaders were made aware of the abuse allegations and reported it to authorities, per state law. He declined to say how the church learned of the alleged abuse. The Department of Social Services was told of the allegations in May, but officials have declined to say who made them aware. In general, Brown said, abuse complaints can come from a member of the congregation, a family member or through a confession.
"We can assure you or others that our policy was followed," Brown said. "Child abuse is a crime, so that should be reported to authorities."
Silentlambs plans to set up a Meza Children Memorial fund for the community to make donations in their memory. The group will be joined at next week's vigil by two other victims advocate groups, SNAP -- Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests -- and Linkup, a clergy abuse support group.
"The No. 1 ally for sexual abuse is secrecy," said David Fortwengler of Charlotte, a SNAP representative.
Fortwengler said his group wants to stop abuse by members of any clergy, no matter the denomination. The deaths of the Meza children have helped form bonds among victims' advocates, he said.
"I can only imagine the pain that the Meza family went through," he said. "All of us grieve for a situation like this. The best we can hope for is lessons learned."
Jason Foster • 329-4066