A national support group for sexually abused children held a candlelight vigil Thursday to honor three slain children from York County in South Carolina.
Several people holding candles participated in a service the National Guard Armory. It was sponsored by silentlambs (silentlambs.org), a support group for abused children in “religious institutional settings.”
The Meza family were members of the Rock Hill Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The children — Jayro, 5; Denise, 8; and Denia, 14 — died Aug. 9 before a fire engulfed their home. Authorities say they were slain by one of their parents — Marbely or Jose Denis Meza — who died in the fire.
Denis Meza had been arrested three weeks before on charges he molested Denia. York County Coroner Doug McKown said she’d also been raped within five days of her death.
A national spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization said that Meza “confessed” to church officials about sexually abusing his little girl.
According to some of the vigil participants there were no Jehovah’s Witnesses present at the memorial service. “It’s been very hard for our family to have coped with these deaths. … I still do not know why their church was not here grieving here with us tonight,” said Ariel Zeledon, Marbely Meza’s brother.
Bill Bowen, director of silentlambs and a former member and elder of the cult from Calvert City, Kentucky, attended the vigil and announced the establishment of the Meza Children Memorial Fund.
“We don’t know all the facts yet in the Meza family case — what church elders knew about Denis Meza’s abuse of his daughter and how long it took them to turn that information over to the authorities,” said Cindy Fondren who helped organize the vigil. “But we do know there are many documented court cases in which church elders did not turn information about alleged sexual abuse involving church members to DSS or the police.”
The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses has refused to comment about the Meza family. A nearby Christian church helped arrange the funeral and raise money for the family since no assistance was offered by their Jehovah’s Witness organization, according to participants at the vigil.