The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA
Eight-year-old Nathaniel Weathersby put his arm around his mother and told her that if she just wishes hard enough her 14-year-old daughter, killed last week, will come back to her.
The slain girl’s mother, Lynda Weathersby, knows her son’s naive attempt at comfort means he doesn’t yet understand that his sister is never coming back.
The June 19 killing of Cieara Weathersby shocked the residents of Roosevelt Terrace Apartments, a public-housing complex off River Road near downtown. Two days later, when police arrested 13-year-old Jacob Bess in the killing, that shock turned to anger.
Lynda Weathersby said that on the afternoon before her daughter’s death, she sent the girl to spend the night at the Bess home while she worked the graveyard shift at her job.
Cieara and Jacob were neighbors. Their mothers had become friends during the two years the Weathersbys lived at Roosevelt Terrace. The children of both families were in and out of each others’ homes almost every day.
Cieara was a trusting, well-adjusted young girl; Jacob, a troubled boy who had attended an alternative school.
Johnelle Kennedy was Ciera’s principal for the past four years, first at Westdale Elementary, then at Glascow Middle School. She knew the child well.
“Oh, she was a sweet girl,” Kennedy said. “So many little girls at that age are trying to grow up too fast. She was not like that. She was special.”
Kennedy recalled how proud Cieara was that she had passed the tests necessary for promotion to high school. And she remembered hugging the child on the last day of school, telling her she deserved a great summer as a reward for all her hard work.
A wall in the family’s plain but tidy two-room apartment is adorned with school certificates Cieara earned, several for straight A’s, others for good conduct and one for completing a leadership training program.
“She was definitely going to be somebody,” her mother said.
By contrast, Jacob is troubled; not so much a bully, children living around him said, but a boy to be feared if he was in a bad mood.
“Sometimes he’d run around, laughing and playing with the kids like any other child,” neighbor Rose Marie Ford said. “Other times he would cuss anyone who looked at him.”
Jacob was transferred from Glascow Middle School to Staring Education Center in January, an alternative school for children more than two years behind their classmates.
Jacob didn’t last long at Staring. He quit going to class not long after being moved there, the principal said.
Still, no one said they thought he was capable of killing someone with his bare hands. But that’s how police said it happened.
Jacob is accused of beating Cieara’s head against a concrete surface until she either died or was close to it. Police said he then dragged her body into an area hidden by tall grass and vines.
And that is how Lynda Weathersby last saw her child, face down in the wet earth surrounded by trash and broken glass. It is an image that will stay with her for the rest of her life. There aren’t enough years, or tears, to wash the picture from her mind, she said.
Because of his age, Jacob faces no more than eight years in juvenile prison if convicted. But his age also means he has a better chance of rehabilitation than someone even just a few years older, experts say.
Shay Bilchik, former vice chairman of the U.S. Department of Justice’s juvenile justice office, says a teen who enters the juvenile system at age 13 is 30 percent less likely to wind up in prison again than a 15-year-old in the same situation.
Weathersby said she hopes the findings hold true for Jacob. The pain she feels is so great, there is no room for hatred.
“I’d like to see him change. I’d like to see him prove everyone wrong,” she said.
Other’s have a more pessimistic view.
“How many people you know go to jail for murder and come out better than they went in?” Ford said.
It’s a view shared by many residents of Roosevelt Terrace. Perhaps that’s why they’ve begun referring to both children in the past tense.