Unusual religious activity of some sort appears to have played a part in the deaths of the two young girls whose bodies were found just south of Norwood on Sept. 8, the arrest-warrant statement filed by the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office suggests.
The statement, also known as an affidavit, was unsealed by San Miguel County District Judge Keri Yoder during a hearing on Thursday following a joint request by the Daily Planet and KOTO Community Radio. The local news outlets obtained the document Monday morning.
The two children — identified last week by the Coroner’s Office as Makayla Victoria Roberts, 10, and Hannah Elizabeth Rosalina Marshall, 8 — were placed in a 1999 Toyota Sedan on property off County Road Y43 at different points during the summer. From May to the time of their arrests in early September, a group of two Haitians, a Jamaican and a woman believed to be from the southeastern U.S. were living on the property, which belonged to a Norwood resident who befriended them, according to the affidavit.
The document says the two girls were banished to the car as punishment — and at some point, food and water were withheld —because their spirits were “unclean from a previous life,” the Norwood resident and fifth suspect, Frederick Alexander Blair, 23, told sheriff’s deputies.
Following a court hearing on Oct. 10, local reporters asked 7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller whether “voodoo” or some other spiritual practice was related to the girls’ deaths. He confirmed that it was being looked at as part of the investigation, but declined to elaborate, citing the judicial seal.
The two deceased children belonged to suspect Nashika Leonie Bramble, 36, believed to be from the southeastern U.S. Two other children were taken from the property alive and are currently in the custody of state child protective services. Their mother is said to be another suspect, Madani Ceus, 37, of Haiti, described as the “spiritual leader” of the group, Blair told authorities. She is being held in the San Miguel County Jail without bond. Both Ceus and Bramble have been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse resulting in death.
Ceus allegedly ordered the children into the car sometime after the group settled in Norwood, Blair told sheriff’s deputies. It is not known exactly when the children died. Authorities previously have said the girls had been deceased for at least two weeks when the bodies were found Sept. 8.
According to the affidavit, Blair told deputies a tarp was placed over the vehicle containing the two girls during the solar eclipse of Aug. 21.
The group befriended Blair at a Grand Junction truck stop in May, the affidavit states. Ceus, who preferred to be called “Ama” or “Yahweh” (God), told Blair the group was on a “spiritual retreat” in search of St. Michael. She declared Blair to be St. Michael, “the one the creator had sent to help them,” before revealing “the (group members) were not humans but spiritual beasts that were going to survive the coming apocalyptic times.”
Blair said everyone living on the Norwood property, including suspects Ashford Nathaniel Archer, 50, of Haiti, and Ika Eden, 53, of Jamaica, were “under (Ceus’) direction and control.” Blair added he moved out of his Norwood home and onto the property with the group members some time after their arrival.
It was after moving onto the property that Blair “became under the control of Ms. Ceus out of fear that she was going to shatter his spirit with some kind of magical powers he believed she could control with him,” he told deputies, as quoted in the affidavit.
Blair told authorities that he was “under (Ceus’) spell” and “would do anything she asked of him.” (He added that the other group members also were influenced by Ceus’ powers.)
When asked by investigators why he didn’t report or help the children after he knew food was being withheld, Blair again said he was “fearful” of Ceus.
According to Blair’s account, no one was allowed to leave the property. (Bramble left the property on Sept. 6. She turned herself into Grand Junction authorities on Sept. 9.)
Blair told his father — Franklin Fletcher, of Dallas, Texas — that there were “two dead children on the property” during a Sept. 8 visit, according to the affidavit. Fletcher then notified authorities.
The cause of death is still under investigation by the county Coroner’s Office. Ceus told authorities that “lack of food and water might have contributed to the children’s deaths,” the affidavit states.
Ceus said that she prepared all the group’s meals, including food that Bramble provided for the children in the car, according to Ceus’ account as reported in the affidavit.
When the food supply started to run low sometime during the summer, Ceus refused to feed Bramble, Ceus allegedly said. (It is unclear in the affidavit if Ceus also withheld food from the children in the car at the time she stopped feeding Bramble, as names and certain segments have been redacted by court officials.)
Ceus told authorities that Bramble and Blair would go to the local “pantry,” though, to secure food for Bramble and the children.
She also said that she lived on a different section of the property than the others and didn’t interact with all the group members regularly.
Ceus described Blair as being “frantic” about the situation regarding the children, but no one wanted to contact authorities out of fear of arrest, according to the affidavit.
The car in which the children were discovered was registered to Eden, also known as “Karah Sandalphon.”
The bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition when recovered from the vehicle by investigators, according to the affidavit.
While Ceus and Bramble face murder charges, Archer and Blair each have been charged with two counts of felony child abuse resulting in death and one count of being an accessory to a crime. Eden, meanwhile, faces two counts of child abuse resulting in death.
A preliminary hearing for the five suspects is set for Nov. 20-21 at 9 a.m.