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Hell On Earth

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She was 20 going on 21, old enough to work, vote, live on her own, and almost old enough to drink at parties. But to those who knew her, Megan Williams came across as an adult-size little girl: petite, vulnerable, and at times naive.

Sometime in early September, police say that naïvete may have led Williams into what she thought was a party with friends but was actually a trap, luring her into a house of horror. For at least a week, Williams, an African-American woman, was savagely abused--beaten, raped, choked and stabbed--at the hands of six White captors who spat out racial slurs as they degraded her, according to police reports. In a squalid trailer deep in the remote, coal-mining hills of Big Creek, West Virginia, Williams was made to eat feces left by rats and dogs, drink toilet water and, in one particularly chilling episode, even blood. She was forced to perform sex acts on both men and women, and as her attackers slashed open her leg and ankle, police say, they hurled the N-word to make sure Williams understood why they had made her their victim.

The brutal story of torture seems almost impossible to believe. Yet, incredibly, it is not the only one. Just months before, another Black woman was terrorized at the hands of a group of teenagers: In June, a single mother in Dunbar Village, a West Palm Beach, Florida, housing project, was held inside her home, gang-raped repeatedly and brutalized for up to three hours while her 12-year-old son was held at gunpoint.

BEHIND THE HORROR

The ramshackle trailer and toolshed where Williams was held is atop a gravelly hill. Standing there, one can't help but notice that the eerie silence and the absolute seclusion of the site, surrounded by dense green thicket, gives off an unsettling feeling. Both structures are cordoned off by police tape, and the grassy terrain is littered with junk--a rickety shopping cart overflows with old beer cans, rumpled clothes, a broken wood chair.

Two of the six suspects arrested in connection with the attack lived here, police say: Frankie Brewster, 49, and her son Bobby Brewster, 24. Both had significant, violent criminal records. Together, all six suspects have racked up 108 criminal charges since 1991. According to the Associated Press, many of those cases were dismissed and plea agreements were reached in others.

To the credit of law enforcement in West Virginia, police responded swiftly to the anonymous tip that led them to the trailer and to Williams. But controversy has flared since Williams's rescue over the reluctance by state and federal prosecutors to charge the woman's alleged captors with hate crimes or civil rights infractions. Prosecutors have said the charges they are pursuing carry far heavier sentences than hate crimes. *Charges against one suspect were sent to a grand jury in October. Among other allegations, Karen Burton, 46, is charged with kidnapping, first-degree sexual assault and 13 counts of battery. Charges against the other five suspects are expected to go before a grand jury in January.

WHO HEARD HER SCREAMS?

When you come upon the small orange sign marked No Crime Zone at the front entrance, the barracks-style buildings that make up Dunbar Village look benign. But go farther into the 17-acre property, penned in by an ominous eight-foot-high metal fence. It feels like a cage. According to one resident, security has been beefed up and cameras are supposed to be installed, but residents here do not feel safe. Not after what happened to a struggling Haitian mother and her son.

On the night of Monday, June 18, 2007, the woman, who at one point worked as a nurse's assistant, and her son were at home when they answered a knock at the door. When they did, a group of young men, their faces covered by what appeared to be T-shirts, forced themselves in with guns drawn, knocking the woman and her son to the floor. What followed, according to the information the two gave police and what the woman relayed in a chilling television interview, was a night of terror that lasted at least three hours.

The young men, along with more friends who arrived later, took turns repeatedly raping the woman and held her son at gunpoint, forcing him to watch. Eventually they made the woman perform oral sex on her own son, and they went so far as to record their attacks with a cell phone camera.

As is typical in sexual assault cases, police have not identified the woman. But four of her alleged assailants, have been charged as adults with multiple crimes.

*One teen charged in the assault, 16-year-old Jakaris Taylor, accepted a plea in November. To avoid a life sentence, Taylor pleaded guilty to burglary and two counts of armed sexual battery, agreeing to spend 20 years in prison and testify against his friends. He will also be branded a sexual predator. The other three awaiting trial have been offered plea deals, but Taylor is the first to accept.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

ESSENCE readers who are interested in making a contribution to Megan Williams may contact the Logan County Sheriff Office at 304-792-8590 or send checks to Megan Williams, care of the Logan County Sheriff Department at 300 Stratton St., Room 209, Logan WV 25601. Assistance or notes for the mother and son in Dunbar Village can be sent to St. Ann Catholic Church, 310 N. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach FL 33401. Make checks payable to Dunbar Victim Assistance Fund or call 561-832-3757 for more information. All proceeds will go directly to the victims.

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