Union: Overburdened Caseworker Handled Newark Abuse Claims

The caseworker looking into abuse allegations against a woman whose 7-year-old son was found dead in a plastic storage bin was handling 107 investigations when she closed the woman's case, according to an official from the caseworkers' union.

Union officials said they hoped the caseworker and her supervisors would not be made scapegoats in the death of Faheem Williams, who was discovered in a relative's home a day after two of his brothers were found starving in a locked basement room.

"You're talking about a really besieged work force. You can't say much more than that," said Hetty Rosenstein, president of Communication Workers of America Local 1037. "When you have 107 children on your caseload, you might not do all the collateral calls. Nobody can do this job."

An autopsy concluded that Faheem, who was found Sunday in the home of his mother's cousin, Sherry L. Murphy, died from starvation and blunt force to the stomach. The death has been ruled a homicide but no one has been charged with the killing.

Authorities widened the dragnet Tuesday for Murphy, 41, who has been charged with child endangerment. The children had been in Murphy's care since their mother, Melinda Williams, was jailed on assault charges in March.

The FBI was preparing a warrant charging Murphy, a go-go dancer, with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

Newark police have been flooded with tips that Murphy left New Jersey, Lt. Derek Glenn said Tuesday. Relatives of the boys said Murphy may have gone to Rocky Mount, N.C.

Faheem's twin, Raheem Williams, 7, and another brother, Tyrone Hill, 4, remained hospitalized in fair condition Tuesday. They were placed Tuesday in the custody of the Division of Youth and Family Services, which was trying to find them a foster home, agency officials said.

Williams was accused in 1996 of mistreating a child, although it was not immediately clear whether the child in question was one of hers, Newark Police Lt. David Wood said.

Gov. James E. McGreevey has demanded a report on the case from the Division of Youth and Family Services, which closed its case on the family in March without an onsite investigation.

Officials with the agency said they were investigating what happened.

The boys' mother remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being struck by a car. She had been released from jail in August, but told police she could not find Murphy or the children.