Long before Sierra Swann was charged, along with Nathaniel Broadway, withmurdering her month-old twin girls last week, she lived with her mother, fivesiblings and her mother's boyfriend in a one-bedroom apartment that lackedelectricity.
Her mother, Donna Brown, admitted that she battled a crack addiction.Sierra's father wasn't in the picture.
It wasn't uncommon for Swann, now 17, to have to pitch in to raise heryounger siblings.
Despite those bleak circumstances, Swann was distraught at age 13 whenChild Protective Services split up her family, according to her godmother,Vernedia "Shawn" Southers.
To compensate for the love she did not receive at home, Southers said,Swann turned to boys. Though she was a cute girl with plenty of suitors, onein particular struck her fancy. Swann and Broadway became inseparable.
Broadway, 24, wasn't known to hold a job, friends said, and court documentsshow he had spent time in jail on minor charges.
Initially, he seemed to care for Swann, Brown said, but the relationshipgrew rocky.
"I never really liked him," said Brown, who acknowledges using crack foryears but proudly shows certificates received for completing drug rehabprograms. "She used to call me and tell me her and Nate got in a fight ... andI'd just tell her come here, come see me, we'll talk, and I used to tell herto just leave him alone."
Maranda Walker, Southers' 15-year-old daughter, said she and Swann werebest friends. They met because Brown and Southers used to be neighbors.
"We were best friends up until December, up until the first child wasremoved," Maranda said yesterday. "Me and her were best friends for a longtime."
Before Swann gave birth to the two infants who died, Emonney and Emunnea,she had another child, Nairaa.
Southers said Swann blamed her when CPS took Nairra, now a toddler. But themother of six, who admits she's a recovering drug addict, said she couldn'tcontinue ignoring obvious signs of abuse.
"One time Nairra had bite marks all over her," Southers said. "She weighedless than 20 pounds when she was almost 2. One time Nairra came over here andthe whole side of her face was swollen, and her left eye was shut. I was like,I cannot keep letting her come over here looking worse than the time before.The baby smelled like pee every time she came. I would take her upstairs togive her a bath and feed her."
Swann and Nairra spent a lot of time at Southers' Cokesbury Avenue home,but Southers said she didn't like Broadway and didn't want him around.
"They'd settle down for the night, and I'd think they were going to staybut he'd [Broadway] come as late as 1 a.m.," Southers said. "He would knock onthe basement window where Maranda sleeps, and Sierra would jump up and leavewhen he came."
One day in December, "I called the [Department of Social Services] on thephone and told them Nairra was here and it looked like her front teeth hadbeen knocked out," Southers said. "When Sierra saw them coming she said,`Shawn, my workers are here, please don't let them in,' and then she ran outthe back door with the baby. She was hiding with Nairra in the bushes on thenext street over."
Southers said one of the two social workers quickly found Swann, who was afoster home runaway and was pregnant with the twins. The social workers tookNairra from Swann.
But before the two social workers left Southers' home, she and her daughterinsist, they told them that Swann was pregnant again.
"They knew she was pregnant," Southers said. "I have no doubt about that.I'm not trying to blame Social Services, but if they say they didn't know shewas pregnant, and that's what I read in the paper, they knew. I sat here andtold them."
Department of Social Services spokeswoman Sue Fitzsimmons said last nightshe could not confirm Southers' account.
"We may have been told by somebody that she was pregnant, but I can'tconfirm or deny that at this point," Fitzsimmons said. "What I'm saying to youis with runaway teens, it's hard to give them services if they're not presentfor the services. We don't lock children up. We don't have foster homes thatlock children up. We don't have offices with locks."
On April 12, Swann gave birth to the twin girls - one was delivered enroute to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The baby came out into the leg of Swann's sweat pants, where the newbornstayed until a doctor removed her, said City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L.Beilenson. Brown said her daughter rode in a taxicab to the hospital, wherethe other girl was born.
On May 11, a 911 call sent paramedics rushing to 1907 E. 31st St. inNortheast Baltimore, where Swann, Broadway and the girls lived in the basementof a vacant rowhouse that lacked such basic necessities as electricity and atoilet.
The severely malnourished girls were pronounced dead at Hopkins Hospital,and an autopsy revealed they both had fractured skulls and ribs.
Swann and Broadway are in custody, each charged with two counts offirst-degree murder and child abuse causing death. They have been denied bail.
Brown insists her daughter had a "happy childhood" that included goingshopping, braiding hair for her siblings and neighborhood pals. She said Swannearned good grades in school and never gave her any trouble.
"Sierra loved children. She loved them," Brown said. "I can't see herhurting them twins."
Brown's other children - ages 1 to 14 - are in the custody of relatives andlive in Baltimore. She said she's working to "get them back" although sheadmits rarely seeing Swann while the girl lived in foster homes.
The two last spoke Sunday, when Swann called Brown from jail to wish hermother a happy birthday.
Now Brown awaits one more call - from a woman who's trying to help withfuneral arrangements for the twins, who Swann wants to have cremated.
The girls' ashes are supposed to remain with Brown.