(Photo: WILMINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT) Kula Pelima
By Esteban Parra, Scott Goss, and Karl Baker
Media: Culled from the Delaware News Journal
A 30-year-old Wilmington woman has been charged in the death of her infant son and a 5-year-old boy who was in her care.
A 30-year-old Wilmington woman, who called city police early Monday worried about her immigration status after her boyfriend was detained by federal authorities, has been charged in the deaths of her infant son and a 5-year-old boy in her care.
Police was called later that morning by the same woman and found the children drowned in a bathtub in a Trinity Vicinity-area apartment located in the 800 block of W. Ninth St. in Wilmington.
Kula Pelima was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. She was being held at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution after failing to post $2 million cash bail, Chief Robert Tracy said at a Tuesday press briefing.
“She was concerned about her immigration status,” Tracy said of Pelima’s initial call to police at about 3:45 a.m. Monday. “She’s a Liberian immigrant that came to the country in 1997, and she was worried about what could happen to her because of her boyfriend … [the father of both boys] was picked up also by the feds on some immigration issues on Oct. 6.”
The mother of two children found dead Monday morning is in custody and is suspected in their death, according to Wilmington police Chief Robert Tracy. Daniel Sato/The News Journal
Pelima called 911 again, at about 8:30 a.m. Monday, telling the operator that she had drowned the children, Tracy said. She met responding officers at the door of her first-floor apartment and directed them to the bathroom tub where they found the two boys’ bodies.
“At the same time, there was a strong smell (of natural gas) in the apartment,” Tracy said.
Investigators have not determined why the stove’s gas had been left on.
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A city police official said Pelima is in the country legally. Wilmington police did not know why her boyfriend, identified as Victor Epelle, originally from Nigeria, had been detained in Pennsylvania by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
An officer who went to her home after the 3:45 call told Pelima that they were not interested in arresting her and gave her the Delaware Helpline phone number so she could get answers from the state. The officer saw the 5-year-old boy during that early morning visit and did not see anything indicating distress in the home, Tracy said.
While documents obtained from Justice of the Peace Court 20 stated the children were hers, Tracy said the older boy, Alex Epelle, 5, was not her biological son. The younger child, Solomon Epelle, 3 months, was.
Police contacted Victor Epelle, who is the father of both boys and is being held in York, Pennsylvania, Tracy said.
A federal court database shows no deportation records for Epelle.
The mother of the older boy has not yet been located, Tracy said. She hasn’t been part of his life for “several years,” he said.
Wilmington woman charged in death of infant son, 5-year-old boy
Two boys found dead in apartment near Trinity Vicinity
“Pelima advises that she plugged the drain in the tub and turned on the water,” the documents state. “Pelima left the infant on his back in the tub as the tub began to fill with water.”
She then left the bathroom and went to find the older boy.
The woman told police she physically assaulted the boy before walking him into the bathroom, according to court documents.
Once the older boy was in the bathroom, she placed him into the tub and held his head under water until he stopped moving.
A search through Delaware courts did not find criminal charges filed against Pelima, but police said the state Division of Family Services had started a case that is now closed.
“It wasn’t an abuse allegation,” Tracy said, adding he would not go into the particulars of that matter. “But it’s not anything that we would think that actually give any forecasting that something like this would actually happen.”
If Wilmington police are correct, Pelima would have been 10 years old when she arrived from Liberia, a nation founded by freed slaves from the United States in the 1800s.
Pelima’s arrival occurred the same year the infamous warlord Charles Taylor came to power following one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars. The eight-year conflict took the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displaced roughly a million others.
Taylor resigned in 2003 and later was indicted by the United Nations-backed special court based on crimes against humanity related to his involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war. He is serving a 50-year prison sentence in England.
Today, the nation is led by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president in Africa and a Nobel Prize winner. But the African nation is still struggling to recover from more than a decade of warfare and an Ebola epidemic in 2014-2015More than half of the nation’s 4.6 million residents live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.
While only about 400 Liberians live in Delaware, immigrants from the West African nation and their decedents make up one of the Philadelphia region’s largest African groups, numbering close to 10,000 in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Some seek out assistance from the Philadelphia office of the African Cultural Alliance of North America, a support group that provides legal and health services to African immigrants.
The group’s CEO, Voffee Jabateh, said many of those people – particularly women – suffer from untreated psychological trauma related to their experiences before arriving in the United States.
“Many feel trapped by these memories, and no one believes them,” he said.
Jabateh, who earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and sociology from the University of Liberia, stressed that he does not know Pelima or her personal history. But he has met Liberian immigrants who would rather die than return to their home country.
“Even if you say everything is normal in Liberia now, they don’t believe you,” he said. “But would that cause someone to take their children’s lives and be subject to prison rather than go back? I think we would all be guessing.”
After arriving in the United States, Tracy said, Pelima established residency in Maryland. She moved to Pennsylvania where she lived for a while before signing a lease at the Wilmington apartment she shared with Epelle.
From Monday morning into the early afternoon, several officers stood outside the house on the corner of West Ninth and North Adams streets. Investigators could be seen through a first-floor window, near where a baby chair stood. Later, investigators and state prosecutors walked in and out of a back entrance of the three-story brick building that houses at least two apartments.
Outreach Minister Margaret Guy, who runs the Stop the Violence Prayer Chain, held a prayer vigil outside on Monday evening.
“We are out here today to pray for the families,” Guy said. “We are out here today to pray for healing for our city. It’s too much.”
A makeshift memorial, of stuffed toys and candles, had appeared outside Pelima’s apartment.
Facial expressions of several investigators going in and out of the apartment Monday was grim. Tracy said they are making sure that officers receive critical incident stress management following incidents like this.
“Yeah, it even gets to us police officers,” Tracy said. “Especially when you start seeing such tragic, unnecessary death. We all have the questions, why would someone go through and do what they’ve done.”
Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299 or email@example.com. Contact Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Karl Baker at (302) 324-2329 or email@example.com.
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GLOBER AFRIQUE EDITOR’S NOTE:
There are more than 10,000 Liberians in the US who fear to return home for economic and social reasons. Chief among them include the lack of jobs, better living condition, basic healthcare and more. The Liberian government has failed in providing these things in the last 12 years and any subsequent government that comes must be able to mobilize international resources to reignite the economic recovery process in the country.