FITCHBURG — The state Department of Children and Families this afternoon acknowledged a “serious failure’’ in the handling of the case of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who was last seen by a relative on Sept. 14 and is now feared dead.
Jeremiah’s disappearance was not known to authorities until Dec. 2, when his 7-year-old sister told staff at the Reingold Elementary School here that she and her family were being abused by their mother’s boyfriend.
Jeremiah’s mother, Elsa Oliver, 28, and her boyfriend, Alberto Sierra, 22, are both now in custody, facing charges in connection with violence against Jeremiah, whose disappearance is being treated as a possible homicide by Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr.
Olga I. Roche, commissioner of DCF, the state’s child protection agency, said this afternoon that a social worker and supervisor who were assigned to the Oliver family have been fired.
“This case represents a serious failure on the part of the social worker and supervisor assigned to the family,” Roche said, reading from a prepared statement.
Roche said “the social worker assigned to this case did not conduct the required in-person, monthly checks on the family, as required by the department. And the supervisor of the worker failed to enforce that policy. Both have been terminated.’’
Roche would not provide a detailed account of the agency’s involvement with Oliver and her three children. She said the agency first got involved with the family in September 2011.
This June — about a month after Sierra allegedly started abusing Elsa Oliver and the three children — Jeremiah’s day care provider reported that Oliver said the child was moving to Florida to live with his grandmother. The social worker, Roche said, failed to check out the report.
With two court officers forcefully guiding her into public view, Oliver appeared in Fitchburg District Court today, where she was denounced by a relative as a “child killer’’ and described as a woman so emotionally fragile she was being cared for by her three children.
A judge ordered her to undergo a mental competency evaluation at a Worcester facility. Oliver had already been examined by a forensic psychologist, who said Oliver was a deeply suspicious person who feared being poisoned.
Her defense attorney, James G. Reardon Jr., told the judge that Oliver was too mentally unstable to assist in her defense. “I am unable to effectively communicate with her,” he said. “I can’t get any information from her.’’
During the arraignment, Sandrino Oliver, one of the paternal relatives of the missing boy, shouted at Elsa Oliver, calling her a “child killer.’’ Outside the courtroom, he also shouted, “Where’s my nephew?’’
According to Oliver family members, Jose Oliver is the biological father of all three children. Jose and Elsa Oliver once lived in a relative’s home in Worcester, along with the couple’s three children: Jeremiah, an older brother, and a sister, who is the eldest of all three.
But Elsa Oliver left abruptly about two years ago when Jose Oliver was at work, and she took the children with her. The mother went to court and obtained a restraining order against the father. He has not had contact with his children in years, said Rose Valcourt, Jeremiah’s paternal aunt.
Valcourt said she was horrified by the abuse the children and their mother allegedly suffered at the hands of Sierra.
“We don’t want to think that he’s gone.” she said of Jeremiah, describing him as a sweet, lovable child.
But she also said she believed Elsa Oliver should have acted to protect her children.
“If she knew what was going on in that house, she should have gotten out,’’ Valcourt said.
Since arriving in their lives this spring, Sierra brutalized and terrorized his girlfriend and the children, according to a State Police report filed in court.
Sierra has pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of assault and battery on a child causing bodily injury. He is being held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing set for Thursday.
Oliver faces charges of being accessory after the fact to attacks on her children and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child.
Oliver’s daughter said in a law enforcement interview Friday that she had seen Sierra punch and slap her mother, leaving bruises. She said she had seen Sierra hold a knife to Oliver’s knee as well as her face, according to the State Police report.
The girl also said she had seen Sierra hit both of her brothers with fists, and with a black belt with a gold buckle, causing one of her siblings’ “bum to bleed.’’ She said she had seen Sierra hit one of her brothers with such force that the child was sent flying off a toilet onto the floor.Continued...