Election Section

Siblings recall seven years of abuse while under agency’s care

By Tal Abbady, The Associated Press
Saturday July 06, 2002

MALABAR, Fla. — Sitting together in the home of their adoptive parents, the six children seem unshaken as they describe seven years of beatings and other abuse at the hands of their foster family. 

The Roe children — Jesse, 15; twins Jordan and Joseph, 14; Toby, 12; and twins Suzanna and Robbie, 9 — realize they are finally safe. 

“We stuck together,” Jordan said in a recent interview. “We depended on Jesse. He kept track of us, kept us in line.” 

“I didn’t know I had that responsibility,” said Jesse, who now plays basketball, is learning to drive and dreams of becoming a Navy Seal. “I didn’t know what a normal life was.” 

The children’s harrowing years with foster parents Jackie and Frank Lynch — and the role the Department of Children & Families played in the disturbing story — have come to illustrate Florida’s troubled child welfare system. 

The agency has been under intense criticism for failing for 15 months to notice the disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, a Miami girl under its supervision. That case has drawn national attention and become an issue in the governor’s race. 

In May, the agency agreed to a $5 million settlement of a lawsuit stemming from the Roe children’s abuse. Documents filed under the 1999 lawsuit suggested the agency “ignored clear signs of danger” by licensing the Lynch home for foster care. 

Records also showed Jackie Lynch’s daughter from a prior marriage was removed from her care in 1987 for sexual and emotional abuse. Frank Lynch had an arrest record for obstruction of justice and owed $16,000 in child support, and Jackie’s son Michael was arrested as a teen-ager after he allegedly videotaped himself having sex with a 14-year-old. 

The Roe children lived with the Lynches from 1990 to 1997. They say their foster parents locked them in a room, beat them regularly and fed them a diet of Nyquil and cereal soaked in Kool-Aid. The children attended school erratically and rarely left one small room. 

“We were always getting hit a lot by Jackie, Frank and Michael for no reason,” said Jordan, a poised young teen-ager. 

The children say Michael Lynch son used to be beat them and that he allegedly would shove Jordan or Joseph inside a plastic crate, tape it shut and toss it into the swimming pool. 

“I used to think — I’m going to die,” Jordan said. 

Efforts to reach the Lynches, who moved to Alabama in 2000, were unsuccessful. Telephone numbers in their names have been disconnected. In 1997, Jackie Lynch plead guilty to one count of child negligence and paid a $140 fine after an undisclosed plea bargain. 

The siblings were removed from the Lynch home in 1997 “because of the pervasive abuse they suffered,” according to court records. 

Their adoptive parents, Rod and Kathy Rodrigues, said it was a struggle to help the children overcome the years of abuse. 

On their first night as a family, the couple put the children to bed in separate rooms. The next morning, they found all six asleep in a clump on the floor, much as the they were forced to do during their years in the Lynch home. 

The siblings dismantled a bedroom dresser and made a fort of the panels. They lit fires, flooded bathrooms, slammed into walls and cut their own foreheads with scissors. 

“It took two years before we decided to hang on to them,” said Rod Rodrigues, 47. 

Jordan and Joseph were slightly cone-headed from constantly banging their heads against walls. 

“You could mark their growth based on the holes in the walls,” 37-year-old Kathy Rodrigues said. 

There were also medical and developmental problems. The siblings arrived malnourished and emaciated. The Lynches allegedly routinely sedated them with adult-strength Nyquil, likely the cause of the liver damage that showed up on medical tests, according to Kathy Rodrigues.