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Fire chief describes grisly scene

Found children injured in Salem

By Kathy McCabe and Martine Powers
Globe Staff / March 21, 2012
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SALEM - Even while his home life was fraught with problems, 8-year-old Jamaal Goodwin flourished in school.

Teachers at Witchcraft Heights Elementary School often discussed how the first-grader with the sunny personality had proven so resilient. They made plans with his mother, Tanicia Goodwin, to discuss this week the progress Jamaal had made in several subjects.

“We wanted to brag about how great he’s doing in school,’’ said Mark Higgins, the principal.

Two days after Tanicia Goodwin, 25, was arrested in Salem and accused of slashing the throats of Jamaal and his 3-year-old sister, Erica, and dousing them with lighter fluid, school staff and a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families said there had been no indications that the children were in danger.

But a family member said that there were plenty of warnings and that he would fight for the children to be placed with family members. The children are in the care of the department and remain hospitalized at Children’s Hospital Boston, where Jamaal is in critical condition.

On several occasions, school officials notified the department that things seemed amiss in Jamaal’s home life. Still, they never believed that Jamaal would be harmed.

“Not in a million years did we ever imagine that he was going home to a dangerous place,’’ Higgins said.

A spokeswoman said the department had frequent contact with Goodwin, as recently as a few days before her arrest, and had conducted a home visit on Feb. 24.

Goodwin’s cousin, Wayne Cox, 62, said Goodwin had a history of violent behavior. He was given custody of Jamaal in 2007, but when Cox, whom the boy called Daddy, planned to move to Atlanta, Goodwin petitioned to regain custody.

In April 2009, she wrote to a judge that her life was on the right track: She had earned a GED, found housing in Salem, and planned to attend North Shore Community College.

“I feel without a doubt that my situation is much more stable then [sic] when I relinquished custody of my son,’’ Goodwin wrote.

It was a mistake, Cox said, that the boy was returned to his mother’s care in 2010.

Cox said he agreed to return Jamaal to his mother because he felt pressured to do so.

“I believe that the courts are so busy trying to be politically correct that they are not listening, and kids are getting hurt,’’ Cox said.

Deborah Cox, Wayne’s sister, said she had pushed for the boy to be returned to his mother. She said she had no indication that Goodwin could have been dangerous.

“If that had been a fleeting thought in my mind, I never would have sanctioned or supported it,’’ said Deborah Cox, 59.

The cousins have not been allowed to visit either child.

Wayne Cox said he will again seek custody of Jamaal. They believe Erica’s biological father will seek custody of her, but Deborah Cox said she would take her in if needed.

Cayenne Isaksen, a Department of Children and Families spokeswoman, said the department will first look to place the children with family members.

“In this case, specialized medical care and follow-up may be required, so we will work to ensure that whoever the children are placed with is able and prepared to properly care for and protect the children,’’ Isaksen said in a statement.

Goodwin was arraigned Monday in Salem District Court, where she pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including attempted murder, and was ordered held without bail pending a hearing next Monday.

Fire Chief David Cody described Tuesday the grisly scene that confronted firefighters Sunday night.

As they walked along the hallway to Apartment 714B, they heard loud voices coming through the open door of the apartment across the hall and saw three women.

“They looked in and saw a woman who appeared to be the mother naked and yelling,’’ Cody said, adding that the apartment door was open. “There was a lot of noise. She was kind of hysterical.’’

Firefighters told the women to evacuate the building. The crew proceeded to 714B and found two fires, in the living room and in the back bedroom, Cody said. Jamaal was spotted lying face-down in the smoke-filled apartment. His eyes were open, but he didn’t speak, Cody said.

As the crew began extinguishing the flames, a firefighter checked to make sure the three women had left the apartment across the hall.

They were gone, but they had left behind Erica, who lay on a couch, alert but voiceless because of the injuries to her throat.

Both children were rushed to Salem Hospital, then Jamaal was taken by helicopter to Boston, followed by his sister in an ambulance.

In the apartment, firefighters found furniture tipped over and clothing flung about the apartment.

Salem Police Lieutenant Conrad Prosniewski said the investigation is ongoing. He did not rule out the possibility that more charges could be filed.

Deborah Cox said she still struggles to understand how and why her cousin could have committed such a heinous act. She looked at a newspaper with a photo of her disheveled cousin on the front page, a far cry from the woman who was usually warm and well-groomed.

Cox shook her head.

“I know she had to be so far in hell to do this,’’ Cox said.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Martin Powers can be reached at

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