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The Death of Dayna
By Frank Trippett, Alan Ota and John Snell/Portland
Oct. 31, 1988
Launched last year on a farm in Clackamas County, Ore., the Ecclesia Athletic Association camp professed a wholesome purpose. Founder Eldridge J. Broussard Jr., once a basketball star at Pacific University, said Ecclesia, an outgrowth of the Watts Christian Center in Los Angeles, would bring ghetto children into the clean rural setting and train them through a disciplined program of athletics.
In time, however, neighbors noticed that the children, as one observer said, were "like zombies, never talking, never laughing." The neighbors asked the Oregon children's services division to investigate, but to no avail. Last week four adults came to the Clackamas County firehouse with the body of an eight- year-old girl who had died from multiple injuries to the head, chest and limbs. She was Broussard's eight-year-old daughter Dayna.
Chastened authorities who inspected the two-story, four-bedroom Ecclesia house discovered 53 other children, ages three months to 16 years, living in Dickensian horror. Behind the building's curtain covered windows, the children were kept in rooms strewn with sleeping bags but no beds. There was only one working toilet, no refrigerator, and the only food was some tomatoes and a head of lettuce. The youngsters were malnourished, and most had bruises, welts and wounds. "It was Lisa Steinberg times 50," said Bart Wilson, a manager of the Oregon children's services division, alluding to the six-year-old New York City girl beaten to death last year.
According to Donald Welch, director of the Clackamas County juvenile - department, floggings were "systematic." Adult staff members, he said, would deal out up to 800 blows with "paddle, electrical cord or similar device," while other children looked on. Four adults, including two who delivered the dead girl to the firehouse, were charged with first-degree manslaughter and held in lieu of $250,000 bail. The children were placed in the protective custody of juvenile authorities.
Broussard, 35, was in Los Angeles at the time but returned to Oregon last week. After first refusing to comment on the case, he later made a bizarre appearance on the nationally televised Oprah Winfrey Show. Grinning and smiling, smirking and haranguing, Broussard evaded all direct questions while blaming the death of his daughter on "the media." His only display of emotion came when he broke into tears as he complained about the media's treatment of him. His program has been unfairly likened to a cult, he said, and he has been called, in his own phrase, a "new Jim Jones." Broussard denied that children in the house were beaten. They were merely "spanked," he said.
So far, only one parent of the Ecclesia children has expressed a lack of confidence in Broussard or made any effort to return them to their homes. Broussard himself has vowed to make an all-out effort to regain custody of his young wards. Oregon officials are expected to oppose his effort with equal adamancy.