BALTIMORE – A toddler whose remains were found inside a suitcase in Philadelphia this spring was starved to death by members of a religious cult, including his mother, in part because he refused to say "amen" after meals, police said.
Ria Ramkissoon, the mother of Javon Thompson, was charged Sunday with first-degree murder in the boy's death, and Baltimore police said Monday that three other members of a group called 1 Mind Ministries have also been charged with first-degree murder. Police and Ramkissoon's family say the group is a cult.
Members did not seek medical care for Javon when he stopped breathing, and the boy died in his mother's arms, according to court documents that described police interviews with a confidential informant and two children. He would have been about 19 months old when police say adults stopped feeding him in December 2006.
Ramkissoon, 21, was being held Monday in the psychiatric ward of Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center, and a bail review was postponed until Tuesday. Her public defender declined comment.
The three other people charged in Javon's death — Queen Antoinette, 40, also known as Toni Ellsberry or Toni Sloan; Marcus Cobbs, 21; and Trevia Williams, who turns 21 Tuesday — were already in custody. They were arrested in May in New York City on warrants charging them with failure to appear in court in Baltimore. Those charges stemmed from a scuffle with police in a child custody dispute.
No one answered the phone Monday afternoon in the office of a public defender assigned to Antoinette, Cobbs and Williams.
A fifth alleged cult member, Steven Bynum, has been charged in a warrant with first-degree murder and remains at large, police said Monday. He was believed to be in New York.
Ramkissoon's family said she should not be held responsible for her son's death.
"She had no control over that situation at all," her stepfather, Craig Newton, said Monday.
Ramkissoon's mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, told The (Baltimore) Sun on Sunday that it wasn't her daughter's decision not to feed the boy.
"My daughter was a victim, just like my grandson," Khadan-Newton said. "Somebody made that decision to not feed that child, and my daughter had to follow instructions."
Members of 1 Mind Ministries wore all white, swore off medical care and referred to some members with titles including queen and princess, according to court documents. The group was also accused of insisting that a pregnant woman give birth without access to doctors.
Ramkissoon joined 1 Mind Ministries after Javon was born. Ramkissoon's mother last saw her in April 2006; she later sued for custody of her grandson, writing in a letter to a judge that "the cult leaders" were preventing her from contacting her daughter.
The documents show police interviewed two school-age children who had been part of the group but were taken away from members by Philadelphia police. The children told investigators that members stopped feeding Javon in December 2006, in part because the boy refused to say "amen" after dinner. Members also viewed Javon as "a demon."
Another unnamed informant told police that after Javon died, Antoinette left the boy's body in a room for more than a week, claiming "God was going to raise Javon from the dead," the documents show.
Afterward, Antoinette burned the boy's clothing and a mattress and placed his body in a green suitcase, which she would periodically open and spray with disinfectant to mask the odor, police claim in the court documents.
In early 2007, the group members left Baltimore for Philadelphia. They left the green suitcase and other luggage inside a shed belonging to a man they befriended while there, police said, and then relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y.
Police recovered the suitcase in April after they got a tip from the confidential informant. The remains of a small child were inside. DNA tests are pending to confirm the boy's identity.