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Police charge mother, grandmother with fatal poisoning of 5-year-old girl

May 19, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A 5-year-old girl’s grandmother and mother are accused of forcing her to swallow a lethal cocktail of ammonia, vinegar, cayenne pepper and olive oil, then putting her body out with the trash.

Grandmother Rosa Wilkerson claims Amy Burney died of natural causes and lay dead for days before they put her out with the garbage in front of their Bronx apartment building.

Police say she was poisoned, possibly as punishment, and were going to sift through garbage at Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill today in hopes of finding the body.

``She was restrained and her mouth was gagged, and she was intentionally forced to ingest this mixture by both her grandmother and her mother,″ Deputy Police Commissioner Patrick Kelleher said.

``We don’t know exactly why she was forced to ingest the chemicals, whether it was for punishment, or to have some other effect on her,″ he said.

The mother, Angelic Burney, 25, and Wilkerson, 46, who also goes by the name Rosa Downing, were charged Sunday with second-degree murder after detectives interrogated them for hours Saturday, Kelleher said. Police believe Amy died around April 27.

Sources told the Daily News and Newsday that Wilkerson claimed she forced the girl to drink the poison to exorcise demons from her body. The girl’s mouth was taped shut to prevent her from spitting out the poison, the News reported.

Wilkerson told police that she and her daughter believed the little girl was possessed, since she was prone to throwing tantrums, the Daily News reported.

A police source told the newspaper that Wilkerson was very religious.

``She had tried to get the girl baptized but the ministers thought the baby was too young,″ the source told the newspaper. Wilkerson ``was really upset and told her daughter that Amy hadn’t accepted religion,″ the source said.

Child protection officials had been monitoring the family since Feb. 27, when one of Amy’s teachers reported that she had shown up for school with bruises and scratches on her face.

Police closed an investigation into that report of abuse after Burney and Wilkerson told them Amy had fallen off a bed, Kelleher said. But child welfare workers continued to visit the family.

On May 9, counselors from Astor Preventive Services, the private agency keeping tabs on the family, notified the city that Amy was not in the apartment, said Administration for Child Services Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.

Burney and Wilkerson claimed Amy was in Florida when a caseworker visited the apartment May 13, Scoppetta said.

After Amy could not be found, the women were ordered by a Bronx Family Court on Friday to account for her whereabouts. Burney was jailed at Rikers Island after refusing to cooperate.

Officials then removed her two other children, Allen, 3, and Elijah, 6 months, to foster care.

On Saturday, Wilkerson told newspaper and television reporters that the girl died of natural causes and that her body lay on a mattress for several days before the women realized she was dead. On Sunday, she and the girl’s mother were being held on no bail.

At the Bronx building where the family lived in a neat, ground-floor apartment, neighbors were shocked.

``The grandmother loved her granddaughter _ you could see it,″ said Dianna Pelliccio, 38, an upstairs neighbor. ``The kids were well-kept ... They were very quiet, very nice. Keep-to-themselves people.″

Kedzie Nieves, 23, whose daughter, Alexis, often played with Amy, cast a gaze at the bright red front door of the Burney apartment as she recalled the child’s playful demeanor.

``She was a sweetheart, she was very friendly, very polite,″ Nieves said. ``She was a happy, normal little girl.″

Church minister Frances Lopez said Wilkerson was ``always saying her kids were possessed, but she had a personal thing against that little girl.″

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