WARNING: Some readers may find details disturbing
The babysitter heard the knock from the barricaded basement door, then the voice of a six-year-old girl, asking to be let out.
Justice Taylor, 19, pushed aside a heavy dresser and swung open the door, shocked by what she saw.
“Her lips were busted, she had a big red mark on her neck like she’d been choked or punched,” recalled Taylor in an exclusive interview with CBC News. “She was walking (stiffly) saying her bones were hurting.”
The girl, and her three-year-old sister were rescued by Taylor from the windowless basement of a northeast Edmonton townhouse on Dec. 16.
The sisters’ mother and her roommate have been charged with attempted murder, unlawful confinement, abandonment and failure to provide the necessaries of life.
CBC News first reported their story last month through multiple sources. Now for the first time, Taylor is giving her first-hand account of what she described as the “terrible, horrifying things under that roof” that occurred that night.
Descending the basement stairs, Taylor recalled the stench of urine. She spotted a bare mattress with a loose sheet, flung down on the concrete floor.
Suddenly the three-year-old, dressed in Minnie Mouse pyjamas, stood in front of her, in tears. Slashes and bruises covered the back of her legs and her stomach was swollen, said Taylor. The girls asked for food, complaining they hadn’t been fed.
As they wolfed down grilled cheese, macaroni and fruit cups, Taylor investigated.
‘That’s when I cried’
Initially, the older girl claimed she had fallen through a glass door. But her younger sister said they were beaten with a belt. Taylor took aside the six-year-old, inspected her body, and assured her she wouldn’t get in trouble for telling the truth.
“I lifted up her shirt and her entire back was bruised, dried blood, looked like popped blood vessels,” remembered Taylor. “It was horrid. At that point — that’s when I cried.”
Taylor said the older girl independently confirmed her sister’s story about the belt and said she woke up every morning sore, crying to go to the doctor, but they wouldn’t take her.
“And she asked me if I could take her with me when I left, or (if) I could stay there forever to protect her.”
It was not the first time Taylor had looked after the children. But on two previous occasions the children appeared happy and well cared for, she said.
The girls lived in a small townhouse with their mom, who CBC is calling JL, and her mom’s roommate, AM, who had two sons and a daughter, ages 2, 3 and 5.
A court-ordered publication ban prevents any of the children from being identified.
On Dec. 16, the women were on their way to a party. It was 11:30 p.m. when they finally picked her up for the babysitting shift, Taylor said.
Taylor was told the kids had already been put to bed. AM’s three kids were upstairs and JL’s children were downstairs.
Just before leaving the house, Taylor said AM pried open a grey portable safe with a butter knife and grabbed some money from a stack of $50 bills. Then she slid a dresser in front of the basement door.
Taylor frantically texted her mom and sent her a short video.
The recording, viewed by CBC News, shows a little girl in ratty pyjamas decorated in purple hearts and peace signs, her upper lip swollen and scabbed. Black and purple bruising on top of yellow-greenish bruises covered her neck, lower back and backside.
“I was enraged,” recalled Tammy Taylor, Justice’s mother, at times shaking her head in disgust. “These were injuries that were definitely prior injuries, and then injuries on top of injuries.”
Mom and daughter made a plan over the phone to get everyone out safely. They decided to call police as soon as the women returned and Taylor was back home.
But in text after text the women informed Taylor they would be a little longer. She fed all five kids breakfast, noting AM’s children who slept upstairs were well-dressed, slept in new beds and showed no signs of neglect or abuse.
On the stove Taylor said she saw a slightly melted, foul-smelling brown rock-like substance in tinfoil.
At 11 a.m., the mothers, looking jittery and wide-eyed, finally returned. Taylor said she was told by the women the six-year-old had fallen down the stairs and not to believe any stories she might tell.
As soon as she got home, Taylor and her mom called police.
‘Locked in boxes’
“The police arrived within seven minutes,” said Tammy Taylor.
“They went and they saved those children. And the two girls that were in the basement, they were already being punished for telling. Because they were locked in boxes, in a seven-minute time period. They got locked in boxes in the basement.”
“It was a very dangerous and traumatizing event for my daughter and I’m very proud of her and the way that she handled it,” she said.
The girls have since been released from hospital where, according to Tammy Taylor, they underwent surgery.
Sources told CBC News they had numerous broken bones, and testing showed the younger girl had likely been eating her own hair.
They’re now in foster care, as are JL’s three children.
Justice Taylor said she hopes their pain will “evolve into strength” and she can take the girls on outings swimming or to Chuck E. Cheese so she can “keep a close bond with them and help them out — sort of like a big sister.”
A bail hearing for the co-accused is set for Feb 22.