Andrew Russell The Herald

Angie Zeledon, 5, cousin to the Meza children, holds a candle during a vigil in memory of the the Meza family at the Rock Hill National Guard Armory on Thursday. Members of a Jehovah's Witness group used the vigil to protest sexual abuse. Below left, the Meza children -- Denia, Denise and Jairo -- are pictured in a memorial poster on display at the vigil.


Silent vigil for victims of 'senseless' act
Dozens gather with candles, prayers for Meza children killed before house fire

By Matt Garfield The Herald
(Published September 10 2004)

With heads bowed and candles lit, they stood in a grassy field to remember three children killed one month ago -- and to rally against the abuse that preceded the children's deaths.

About 30 people gathered Thursday night on the front lawn of the Rock Hill National Guard Armory in a vigil sponsored by Silentlambs, a support group for Jehovah's Witnesses who are victims of abuse.

They came to honor the Meza children -- Jayro, 5, Denise, 8, and Denia, 14 -- who were found dead with their throats cut after a fire destroyed their Crestview Drive home Aug. 9.

Police say the crime was carried out by one of the parents, Jose "Denis" and Marbely Meza, who also died in the blaze. All belonged to a local Jehovah's Witness congregation.

Authorities say Denia Meza was sexually abused within five days of her death. Her father had been arrested a few weeks before on charges he molested her.

"We can't change what happened, but, hopefully, people will do a better job of listening to children," said Libby Sweatt-Lambert, executive director of the Children's Attention Home. "This was senseless."

Bill Bowen, director of Silentlambs, led the group in a moment of silence and invited donations to a scholarship fund to benefit Janet, the 11-year-old daughter of Marbely Meza who lives in Nicaragua , as well as other local aid agencies.

"We're holding this vigil to find some kind of meaning in why this happened," Bowen told the audience. "These were three little lives that were taken needlessly."

Relatives of the Meza family stood off to one side, clutching candles as their young children wandered nearby.

Matt Garfield 329-4063


Posted on Fri, Sep. 10, 2004



Candlelight ceremony held in honor of slain children

Father admitted sexual abuse, church spokesman says

The Associated Press


ROCK HILL - A national support group for sexually abused children held a candlelight vigil Thursday tonight to honor three killed children from York County .

The service was sponsored by Silent Lambs, a support group for abused children in "religious institutional settings."


The Meza family were members of a Rock Hill Jehovah's Witnesses church. 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. The case is still under investigation.


Jose Denis Meza had been arrested three weeks before on charges he molested Denia. Officials say she was also raped within five days of her death.


A national spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses church said Jose Denis Meza "confessed" to church officials about sexually abusing his daughter, but he stressed that church officials turned that information over to York County authorities.


Bill Bowen, director of Silent Lambs and a former Jehovah's Witnesses elder from Calvert City, Ky., announced Wednesday in Rock Hill the establishment of the Meza Children Memorial Fund.


Half of the money raised will go to a surviving Meza sibling in Nicaragua .

The other half will go to local charities and to help cover the family's funeral costs.


The vigil was held at the Rock Hill National Guard Armory.


Also Thursday, the group delivered stuffed toy lambs to three local congregations of the Jehovah's Witnesses church, including information for church members on how to report sexual abuse to local authorities.

Kentucky Lake Times

Jehovah's witness charged with molestation and murder of own children

http ://www.kentuckylaketimes.com/localnews/sept04/jwmurder/09030402.php

A national support group for abused children is coming to York County to bring attention to the recent murders of three children, one of whom was raped in the days before her death.

Five members of the Meza family were found dead Aug. 9 after a fire at their house. The father, Denis, had been arrested three weeks before on charges he molested his 14-year-old daughter, Denia. The throats of all three children were slashed. The Mezas were Jehovah's Witnesses.

In court cases, the church has been accused of not taking allegations brought to the church to authorities. However, in the Meza case, a national spokesman for the church said Tuesday that it knew of the molestation and reported it to authorities.

Bill Bowen, director of Silent Lambs, confirmed Tuesday that he and other children's advocates will host a candlelight vigil Sept. 9 at the Rock Hill National Guard Armory at 7:30 p.m. He said his group will discuss ways to prevent child abuse and will also distribute stuffed toy lambs to area Jehovah's Witnesses churches. Silent Lambs has printed information on how to report allegations of sexual abuse.

"A horrible crime took place in Rock Hill ; three innocent children were murdered. And one of those children was sexually abused and later raped," said Bowen. "We want to bring attention to this case and the need for sexual abuse allegations to be brought to the authorities quickly so tragedies like this can be avoided in the future."

Bowen is a former elder with the Jehovah's Witnesses Church . He quit the church in 2000 after he says church elders refused to address sex abuse allegations involving a member of the church. He says the member was later arrested but was never convicted.

His allegations about his former church have been chronicled in The New York Times and by "Dateline NBC."

Bowen's Silent Lambs group ( www.silentlambs.org ) reveals that the church "covers up" allegations of sexual abuse and sometimes does not report those allegations to authorities. Bowen said he decided to come to York County after being contacted by local Jehovah's Witnesses who disapproved of how the cult treated the Meza family.

The five members of the Meza family all belonged to a Spanish Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses in their town. Church officials refused to publicly comment about the family, and another church stepped forward to help raise money to pay for the funeral and transportation expenses for family members from Nicaragua .

On Aug. 9, the Mezas' three children -- Jayro, 5; Denise, 8; and Denia, 14 -- died before a fire destroyed their home. Officials say one of the parents -- Marbely or Denis Meza -- killed the children. The parents both died of burns and smoke inhalation. York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said he's awaiting lab results to determine the killer.

Denia, who was raped within five days of her death, and her mother had what could be interpreted as "defensive wounds" on their arms.

Denis Meza was arrested July 16 on charges of sexually abusing his very own daughter and was ordered to have no contact with her after he moved out of the home in May. He died a week before he was to go to court.

J.R. Brown of the Jehovah's Witnesses denied that his church "protects" members from allegations of sexual abuse.

DSS officials say the allegations of abuse were reported to them May 3 but will not say who reported it. Brown would not say at what point prior to May 3 the church had knowledge of the allegations.

A press conference will be held today at 11:30 a.m. at the Rock Hill City Hall Plaza area to announce the details of the candlelight vigil for the Meza children.

Silent Lambs is also establishing a Meza Children's Memorial fund to make a donation in their memory; additional proceeds will go to local child abuse support groups.

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--Story submitted by Jerald Higgins, Nashville, TN.

Abuse awareness group plans vigil for Meza children

By Jason Foster The Herald
(Published September 2 2004)


A group devoted to protecting abused children will spread its message in Rock Hill next week, one month to the day after three Hispanic children were killed in their home, presumably by one of their parents.

Silentlambs, a national support group for Jehovah's Witnesses who are victims of abuse, will hold a candlelight vigil Sept. 9 at the National Guard Armory on Museum Road .

The group wants to bring more attention to the deaths of Jayro, Denise and Denia Meza, who were found dead with their throats cut after a fire destroyed their Crestview Drive home Aug. 9. Authorities say the crime was carried out by one of the parents, Joe "Denis" and Marbely Meza, who also died in the blaze. All belonged to a local Jehovah's Witness church.

Authorities also say Denia was sexually abused within five days of her death. Her father had been arrested a few weeks before on charges he molested her.

"The recent deaths and abuse allegations surrounding the Meza children have been a source of great concern and sorrow in the Rock Hill community," said Faith Lingerfeldt of York, a local Silentlambs representative.

Lingerfeldt said she and other members of Silentlambs believe instances of abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses often go unreported because church leaders don't want the faith to get a bad reputation.

"A lot of times, they keep it between themselves," said Lingerfeldt, 35, a lifelong Jehovah's Witness. "It's just kept quiet."

The deaths of the Meza children were just the latest example of similar crimes involving Jehovah's Witnesses, Silentlambs officials say.

"This makes the fifth family that had died under similar circumstances," William Bowen, Silentlambs' national director, said in a statement. "The public and Jehovah's Witnesses need to be alerted about the importance of proper child protection."

Bowen's statement did not give examples of other similar deaths. However, his group's Web site, www.silentlambs.org, lists the Meza deaths along with what it says were similar crimes involving Jehovah's Witnesses in Atlanta , Oregon and Canada , among others.

Bowen's stance on the Jehovah's Witness church also is detailed on the site, and his allegations about the church have been documented in The New York Times and on CNN, NBC and other media outlets. Bowen, a Jehovah's Witness for more than 40 years, writes on the Web site that he resigned as an elder in the church "in protest of a policy that hides child molesters from everyone."

But church leaders adamantly refute his claims.

"We're still very much grieving the loss of those kids down there," said J.R. Brown, a spokesman at the church's Brooklyn , N.Y. , public information office. "We have no policy that instructs our elders or congregants that cases of child sexual abuse are not to be reported. Our policy states just the opposite."

If a member of the congregation suspects abuse, they are to report to a church elder, Brown said. The elders then consult with church attorneys about whether a particular state requires the allegations be reported to authorities.

In the Meza case, Brown said church leaders were made aware of the abuse allegations and reported it to authorities, per state law. He declined to say how the church learned of the alleged abuse. The Department of Social Services was told of the allegations in May, but officials have declined to say who made them aware. In general, Brown said, abuse complaints can come from a member of the congregation, a family member or through a confession.

"We can assure you or others that our policy was followed," Brown said. "Child abuse is a crime, so that should be reported to authorities."

Silentlambs plans to set up a Meza Children Memorial fund for the community to make donations in their memory. The group will be joined at next week's vigil by two other victims advocate groups, SNAP -- Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests -- and Linkup, a clergy abuse support group.

"The No. 1 ally for sexual abuse is secrecy," said David Fortwengler of Charlotte, a SNAP representative.

Fortwengler said his group wants to stop abuse by members of any clergy, no matter the denomination. The deaths of the Meza children have helped form bonds among victims' advocates, he said.

"I can only imagine the pain that the Meza family went through," he said. "All of us grieve for a situation like this. The best we can hope for is lessons learned."

Jason Foster 329-4066