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Foster Home Criticized Before Death


Child found dead this weekend two months after the state investigated claim of abuse at the house

Rebecca Roybal

Albuquerque Journal

Two months after the state investigated an allegation of child abuse in an Albuquerque foster home, one of the two foster children who had been placed there is dead.

The death of 3-year-old Rochelle Lemajeur, described as a happy child who loved to eat candy and cookies, is being investigated by the Albuquerque Police Department. No charges have been filed.

An autopsy performed Monday will determine how police will continue with the investigation.

Rochelle's 2 1/2-year-old brother, Steven Lemajeur, who lived in the same foster home, has been transferred to another one, said Romaine Serna, spokeswoman for the state Children, Youth and Families Department.

The foster mother, whose name was not released, has been a foster parent for nearly a year, Serna said. She did not know how many children the woman has cared for as a foster parent.

The investigation into the child abuse allegation found no evidence of abuse, she said.

"If there is a finding that this death was a result of intentional injuries, then obviously law enforcement would proceed," Serna said. "If she doesn't surrender her license at that point, we would revoke it."

Linda Lemajeur, the children's biological mother, said she believes her daughter, who had asthma, would still be alive had the state transferred her children to another foster home.

"We're all still in shock," Lemajeur said Monday.

Family members, who had gathered for a wedding this weekend, stayed on to support Lemajeur and attend the funeral later this week.

"Linda's made mistakes," said her brother Ralph Young.

He said she wanted to "get her life back in order. She thought the kids would be safe. The state was supposed to keep them safe. And now I've lost my niece. Nothing will ever bring her back."

Lemajeur and her husband, Thomas, are 40. She would not say why her children were removed from their care and placed in foster care. The state doesn't comment in such cases.

Late Saturday, paramedics who arrived at the Northeast Heights foster home found Rochelle was not breathing, Albuquerque police have said.

Police said the foster mother reported that the child was acting up the night of her death. Police said the foster mother wrapped the child tightly in a blanket and rubbed her back to comfort her. She then left the girl alone, and when she returned, found the child unconscious, police said.

The child died at 5 a.m. Sunday at University of New Mexico Hospital, said spokesman Don Butterfield.

Lemajeur said she had complained to the state more than once about bruises and severe sunburns on her children. And she said they weren't acting like themselves during recent visits at The Neutral Corner, where parents and children meet under supervision.

The children have been in foster care since Nov. 7.

During an April 2 hearing on the status of the case before Children's Court Judge Geraldine Rivera, a day-care provider testified she had concerns the children were being physically abused in their foster home.

Rivera ordered that the foster home be investigated, and if the state found abuse was ongoing, the children were to be immediately removed.

Serna said the state received a report of abuse against the Lemajeur children March 28.

"We did receive a (physical abuse) referral on this foster home," Serna said. "We conducted a thorough investigation and did not substantiate the allegations."

In such an investigation, the social worker talks to the concerned citizen in this case a child-care provider and to "any other individual with pertinent information."

"I don't believe there was any information that documented bruising or that type of maltreatment," Serna said.

The last time Lemajeur saw her daughter was during a scheduled visit Thursday.

"She ate a treat, she laid down and hugged me," she said. She added that Rochelle wasn't feeling well.

Gerda Young, Rochelle's maternal grandmother, said she was at church when she got the news that her granddaughter was dead.

"It was a shock," she said. "I still can't believe it. I'm crying all the time."

2001 Jun 26