INDIANAPOLIS – A 7-year-old Indianapolis girl told investigators she and her siblings usually slept when barricaded in an apartment closet by their mother, but last weekend she called out for the woman to open the door after realizing her brother and sister had died, according to court documents released Thursday.
Ebyan Farah, 28, is charged with eight counts of neglect and confinement. A Marion County judge entered a preliminary not guily plea on her behalf during a brief Thursday hearing, during which Farah hung her head and looked down at the floor.
Defense attorneys requested a gag order for the case and private autopsies for Farah's 4-year-old daughter, Zuhur Farah Hassan, and 3-year-old son, Zakariya Farah Hassan. Her three other children have been placed in foster care, but a lawyer for her husband said he returned this week from a visit to Africa and is seeking regain custody.
The attorneys issued a statement to Indianapolis media saying relatives of Farah, an immigrant from Somalia, are "devastated and shocked by this tragedy."
"We are a tight community, and we believe with God's help that we will face this tragedy with strength and faith," Farah's uncle, Mohammed Hersi, said in the statement.
Farah's attorneys said they would have no further comment until the judge rules on the gag order.
Authorities have said Farah told police she "was not in her right mind" when she allegedly placed her children in a 6-foot by 1½-foot upstairs closet at Manchester Village Apartments about 6 a.m. Sunday. Court documents say Farah put a bed frame or mattress against the closet door to keep the children from leaving while she went to visit a friend for the day.
Seven-year-old Muntaaz Farah Hassan told investigators her mother often put children in the closet as punishment or when she needed to cook, according to a police affidavit. The girl said she sometimes helped her mother get the children in the closet when they got into trouble.
The girl said she had a hard time breathing in the hot, dark closet Sunday and that no food and water had been left for her and three of her four siblings, according to the affidavit. Muntaaz said her youngest brother, who turns two next month, was not there.
Authorities said earlier in the week that all five children were believed to be in the closet, but did not immediately return messages seeking an explanation for the discrepancy Thursday.
Muntaaz told investigators she believed her brother and sister died while all four children were sleeping. She said when she realized it, she called for her mother, who then opened the door.
Farah told police she opened the closet door about 4:20 p.m., according to a the affidavit. Muntaaz said she watched her mother carry the dead children downstairs, the affidavit said.
Hersi told police he called to check in on his niece Sunday evening.
"I did something wrong," Farah said and began crying, according to affidavit.
Police were called after Hersi went to the home, looked inside and saw one of the dead children on the couch. A police report said medics found both children "in full rigor mortis" and with no pulse.
Autopsies on the children found no blunt force trauma and Dr. John Daniels determined they did not die of natural causes or disease, according to the probable cause affidavit. Daniels is waiting on toxicology tests to help determine a cause of death but listed several possible factors: high temperatures in the closet, positional asphyxia, a possible low level of oxygen and the additional complication of malnutrition.
The children's weights were found to be in the lower 25th percentile based on height and weight, according to the affidavit. Hersi recently told Farah she needed to feed the children because he feared they might die from not eating, and Farah told detectives she understood what her uncle was saying and agreed with him, according to the affidavit.
Farah said she had been feeding her children but hasn't been feeding herself recently, the affidavit said.
Her defense attorneys say they have requested private autopsies in an effort to learn the contents of the children's stomach.