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Praying for Jeremiah; Family, friends attend emotional vigil.

Byline: Paula Owen and George Barnes

FITCHBURG -- As Sandrino Oliver stood before a memorial of candles and stuffed animals set up Wednesday in a parking lot on Kimball Street, he became overwhelmed by the thought of his missing nephew.

"I don't understand,'' he said as he broke down in anguished sobs.

Unable to control his sorrow, Mr. Oliver walked back to his car, but others remained, pondering the disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver who lived across the street from the parking lot and has not been seen since Septem ber. The child's mother, Elsa Oliver, and her boyfriend Alberto Sierra are under arrest for various charges related to alleged abuse of the boy, his siblings and his mother.

Ms. Oliver was arraigned in Fitchburg District Court Tuesday and has been sent for mental and physical health evaluations. She is due back in court Tuesday to report on her evaluation and a dangerousness hearing. Mr. Sierra is also due in court on Tuesday for a dangerousness hearing.

Police continue to investigate the child's disappearance, which they learned about Friday. State and Fitchburg police were at the vigil as part of the investigation. State Police Lt. Michael Lyver said the police were there handing out fliers with a photograph and information about the child, hoping someone would come forward to help them find him.

The vigil was organized by local residents, some of whom did not know the child personally but felt sorrow over the situation that has left him missing. Many of those in the crowd said they were parents and were deeply concerned about the fate of the child.

"I live right down the street,'' Sandra Texidor said. "It's sad that a 5-year-old has to go through that. It hurts.''

Linda Torres was at the vigil with friend Ray Gomez and her children Angel, Carlin, Julian and Christian Torres. She said the tragedy especially hits her when she thinks of her son Angel, 5.

"It's just heartbreaking,'' she said.

Mr. Gomez said they were there to show the family they care.

"Seeing that a child is suffering ... , it's just sad,'' he said.

Cheryl Senecal burst into tears after setting down a large brown stuffed bear next to the other stuffed animals.

"I have 13 grandchildren,'' she said. "I pray for him and the family. I just hope he is OK.''

With Ms. Santos were Angelica Melendez and her daughters Destiny Gavilen and Mercedes Morales. Ms. Morales said she did not know Jeremiah, but he went to the Montachusett Opportunity Council's Headstart program on South Street with her 5-year-old son.

"It's heartbreaking,'' she said.

In interviews prior to the vigil, Mary O. DeSantos, who lives directly below the family on the first floor with her 17-year-old daughter, said she frequently heard Ms. Oliver screaming upstairs and only saw her leave the house once.

"Those screamings were like someone in fear of their life,'' the 40-year-old said. "We live in the same building and we know him (Mr. Sierra). It is shocking and hard.''

She said she did not call police because she was afraid for her daughter.

"I know he would go in and out of the apartment late at night and odd times,'' she said. "She was always there alone. She would never get out.''

She said she would see Jeremiah's older siblings outside, sometimes dragging heavy trash bags down the back stairs, and helped them get the bags into the bins once.

"I thought she had two kids -- I never knew she had a third child -- that is why it is shocking,'' she said. "The oldest son, I used to see him singing. He seemed like he was in his own little world. The little girl was the same way.''

Last month, when the pipes broke and water was streaming down into her apartment, she said she knocked on the door of Ms. Oliver's apartment, but she would not open it. When her daughter tried, she would only talk to her through the closed door, she said.

"All their windows are blocked with trash bags,'' she said. "They had little contact with the outside. It is shocking and scary because we don't know where he is at. I have family with little kids. It is unbearable. How can a parent not know where their 5-year-old is and what happened to him?''

Her older daughters attended the Fitchburg Alternative High School with Mr. Sierra, she said, and they grew up together. He has a younger brother, she said.

"His mother is a very nice person and she raised those boys as good as she can,'' she said. "She did a lot for those two boys. That is why it is shocking.''

She said she does not believe Jeremiah is still alive and said she feels his state Department of Children and Families caseworkers share in the responsibility for what happened.

"I feel they have responsibility in this,'' she said. "If they knew there was abuse in the house, they should have removed those children out of there and this wouldn't have happened. They should have investigated a little more and it wouldn't have been three months. They had a big role in this, too.''

She said she no longer stays in her apartment overnight out of fear.

"You don't know what else to expect,'' she said.

Other neighbors were concerned that investigators had not yet checked garbage bags buried in the snow behind Ms. Oliver's building.

Carmen Nunez, who has lived next door on the second floor for 13 years with her 17-year-old daughter, said when she returned from a monthlong vacation in July, Ms. Oliver and Mr. Sierra were moving in.

"I saw the little boy twice when they were moving in over the summer,'' Ms. Nunez said. "I could see they had all the children sitting lined up on the floor. A few days later, they put the trash bags up in the windows.

"I would see the older two every day in the morning. The little boy would take the bus and the little girl would walk all the way to Beach Street alone.''

She, too, said she heard Ms. Oliver screaming, but did not call the police out of fear.

"I feel so bad, if they did something to that little boy,'' she said. "I would feel very sad. I didn't know what was going on. You could see the other two were afraid when they would go out to throw out the trash. It was like they were so scared.''

Ada Santos, who lives below Ms. Nunez, said she believes Ms. Oliver knows where Jeremiah is.

"How can a mother not know where her child is at? She knows. She is just not talking,'' she said.

Contact George Barnes at Follow him on Twitter @georgebarnesTG
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Owen, Paula; Barnes, George
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 19, 2013
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