NEIGHBORS OF Charlenni Ferreira said they never saw signs to suggest that she was being abused by her family.
Then again, they rarely saw the 10-year-old girl outside her Feltonville home.
The glimpses they did get of Charlenni in recent years suggested a youngster who was "sick" in some way. She was quiet and thin, they said. She walked with a limp and had a swollen face.
But Charlenni's situation apparently was far worse than neighbors imagined. The fifth-grader at Feltonville Intermediate School suffered years of horrific, torturous abuse at the hands of those closest to her, police said.
On Wednesday, she died of a lung infection caused by a lack of medical care, hours after she was found unconscious in her home on C Street near Louden, said Sgt. Ray Evers, a police spokesman.
Yesterday, the District Attorney's Office approved charges of murder, endangering the welfare of a child and related offenses against the girl's father, Domingo "Anibal" Ferreira, 53, and stepmother, Margarita Garabito, 43.
At a news conference, Homicide Capt. James Clark called the alleged child abuse "one of the worst cases that I have ever seen."
He confirmed afterward that Charlenni had been sexually assaulted, but did not elaborate.
Later in the day, police officials said a medical examiner found injuries to Charlenni's vaginal and anal areas. No sexual-assault charges have been filed against Charlenni's father or stepmother.
Doctors from St. Christopher's Hospital for Children and the Medical Examiner's Office noticed "several old and new injuries" on the girl, including severe head trauma, bruising of her back, leg and torso, a recent fractured hip bone and injuries, police said.
They said that Charlenni had a gash on her head that had been covered with a hair weave.
Clark said that Charlenni's two stepbrothers, ages 16 and 19, who also lived in the house, were questioned and released yesterday. TV news reports said that the city's Department of Human Services had investigated the family in 2007 but had closed the case after the girl's injuries appeared not to be suspicious.
DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said in a written statement yesterday: "I am deeply saddened by the tragic death . . . [A]s the facts of this case become known to DHS, we will have lots of work to do in looking at the recent events that could have led to or have prevented this tragedy."
Domingo Ferreira had been working for about four years as an independent driver for High Class Limousine, on Wyoming Avenue near C Street, a block from the family's home.
Company owner Yolanda Deliz-Arroyo said that Ferreira was "always a happy person" and an "excellent" worker. "We're shocked with what happened," she said at her office yesterday.
The Ferreiras would have parties at their two-story house, which was clean with nice furniture and a nice entertainment system, she said.
She said that whenever she saw Charlenni, the girl appeared to be "sick" and "always quiet."
"She would always be in her own little world," Deliz-Arroyo said. "She would say hello. She smiled. [But] I never saw her active." Charlenni moved as if she had "like a limping problem."
She said that Domingo Ferreira was from the Dominican Republic and had returned a few days ago from that country.
Dozens of Feltonville residents gathered for a somber vigil outside the Ferreira house last night.
Candles and pink "Snow White" balloons adorned a small table, and a white placard a few feet away reminded people to bring flowers and stuffed animals.
The memorial was made all the more sad when it became clear that many of those in attendance had no memories or personal stories of Charlenni to share.
"It's terrible. Nobody knew her, or her family, for that matter," said Angie McClain, who lives a few doors away from the Ferreiras.
"If we knew that DHS had been investigating them, we could've looked after her."
Some neighbors said that Charlenni had come to the city about five years ago from Puerto Rico, where her biological mother is believed to be now. It was not clear if Domingo Ferreira had previously also lived in Puerto Rico.
Ricardo Rodriguez, who lives next door to the Ferreiras, said he was shocked when he learned of the allegations against the girl's parents.
"They were like a normal family," he said.
"One time I asked about her, and they said she just got sick. They didn't say anything else about it."
Wanda Torres, 37, who lived next door and whose porch abutted Ferreira's, said that Charlenni appeared to be happy, but that things had seemed to change during the last year.
"She was walking funny," Torres said, adding that she didn't see the girl outside often. She said that she would speak with the stepmother and that she appeared to be a good person.
But if the allegations of abuse are correct, "let God punish her," Torres said. "A woman like her, that was the devil in the body of the angel."