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Columbus Dispatch

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

By Bruce Cadwallader and Alayna DeMartini

“I have not turned my back on these children. I’m hoping that this will open up more doors to counselors and psychologists,” a weary Follette said yesterday from a Grove City motel room. “I imagine we’re going to be split up for awhile.
“We’ve been through a lot of love and hate and understanding in the past six years.”
The Dispatch is withholding the names of the children, who were in custody last night at the juvenile detention center Downtown.
The children told investigators they had laid out 10 knives to use against Follette and their siblings, and had set the fire at the family’s ranch house at 6344 Graessle Rd., said sheriff’s detective Al Judy.
Follette last night said she has been dealing alone with the children’s anger over the sexual and physical abuse they suffered for so many years at the hands of relatives in Louisiana.
She said the 11-year-old boy especially has been angry with her because she has been using tough-love tactics to get his respect, including timeouts, groundings and standing in the middle of the room on one leg. Once she strapped duct tape across his mouth for a few seconds; a relative called Franklin County Children Services on her.
Children Services officials visited but took no action; an agency spokeswoman last night had no information on the case.
Follette said she was awakened by the screams of the children telling her the house was on fire. Everyone escaped, and Follette was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
Pleasant Township firefighters extinguished the fire, which they said appeared to have started in the 10-year- old girl’s bedroom.
“They’re very lucky that they woke up when they did,” Fire Chief Richard Welch said.
A smoke detector in the house did not activate. Fire damaged half the home; the other half was damaged by smoke, Welch said.
An hour later, as the family huddled at their favorite waffle restaurant to recount their escape, the girl admitted the plan, Follette said.
She took the children to the township fire station, where she had them repeat their admission. Fire officials contacted the sheriff’s office.
The felony charges cannot land the children in prison — they are too young under Ohio law. However, the detective said he hopes they will lead to much-needed court intervention.
“We filed the charges because we hope they receive some obviously needed counseling,” Judy said. “Their mom and dad are out of state and grandma was doing the best she could.”
Follette, a telephone debt collector for 22 years, told how she confronted her daughter in 1994 about the dirty conditions in which the four children were living in a mobile home in Louisiana. She was threatening to take the children away when the two girls told Follette they had been sexually molested by male relatives. The two boys told her they had been physically abused.
Follette said that set her on a crusade to win custody of the children.
She took a leave from work, moved to Louisiana and rented a three-room apartment to begin the process of seeking custody. She fought with child advocates, law- enforcement officers and parish prosecutors to get help for the children, she said.
Finally, in late 1995, a St. Landry Parish magistrate awarded her custody.
Reached at her Eunice, La., home last night, the children’s mother, Amy Lewis, said she last saw the children in 1999.
“I can’t believe they tried to kill her,” Lewis said. “I just didn’t think they had it in them.
“We knew they would all end up in trouble with the law, but this — no.”
The last time Lewis spoke with her children was last week when they called her at her home and asked her to buy them gifts.
They had called her around Christmastime with the same request.
The children used to complain to their mother about living with their grandmother, Lewis said.
“I’d call and . . . they’d ask me when I was going to get them and I’d tell them: ‘I don’t know,’ ” Lewis said.
Follette allowed Lewis to take her children back to Louisiana in the summer of 1999 for a reconciliation, but that effort failed, both women said.
All four children have undergone counseling sessions, sometimes three days a week, at four area mental-health centers.
A few years ago, teachers at the 11-year-old boy’s school called Follette about disturbing cartoons he had drawn. They depicted him shooting Follette.
“I’ve been begging for help. Now, everybody wants to help,” Follette said, who added that her job has been abolished and she will be out of work after Jan. 31.
Follette said she intends to live with a son in Columbus for now.
Caption: Judith Follette says she has not turned her back on the two grandchldren accused of trying to kill her and their siblings.
Mike Munden / Dispatch
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