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Checking For Damaged Wall, Building Inspector Finds Damaged Child

May 26, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ When housing inspector Raymond Berry went to a Harlem apartment building to check out a tenant’s complaint, he was looking for damaged walls. Instead, he found a damaged child.

During his visit earlier this week, Berry noticed 4-year-old Margarita Seeley, emaciated and covered with burns and bruises, sitting motionless in a bedroom doorway. An older boy in the apartment walked over and hit her in the face.

``I told him, `No, no, don’t do that,‴ said Berry. Then he realized that the girl had shown ``absolutely no response. That was the key _ there was no movement.″ It appeared Margarita was so accustomed to being hurt that she no longer reacted.

As he left the building Monday, Berry thought about going ``through the proper channels″ at the city housing deparment the next day _ talking to a supervisor, writing up what he’d seen.

But he’d worked 10 years as a police officer in Oakland, Calif., and something told him not to wait. So when he got home, he called 911, and two officers went to the apartment a half-hour later.

``When I first saw the child, I couldn’t believe a baby in New York City could look like that,″ Officer Wayne Gordon said.

The girl’s mother, Esperanza Seeley _ who had made the complaint that summoned the housing inspector _ and her boyfriend were charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Seeley’s other three children were put in foster care.

The Daily News reported that Margarita had been in foster care from the time she was born until 15 months ago, when a Family Court judge returned her to her mother.

She stayed with her mother despite complaints to authorities from the foster mother and Margarita’s aunt, the newspaper said. Marjorie Valleau, a spokeswoman for the Child Welfare Administration, said the case was under investigation.

On Thursday, Berry visited Margarita in the hospital and brought her a large stuffed bear, which she named Omar. She didn’t remember him, but she kissed him after he was introduced as ``someone who had helped her,″ Berry said.

``She looks great,″ he said. ``She smiles very easily for somebody that’s been through what she’s been through.″

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