The body of a toddler found stuffed into a suitcase in South Philadelphia this week is believed to be that of a boy who disappeared with his mother in 2006 after she joined a religious cult in Baltimore.
DNA tests are under way to determine if the boy is Javon Thompson, his aunt said yesterday. The aunt, Colleen Khadan, who lives near Baltimore, said the family fears the child may have died from a lack of medical care or been starved for not saying "Amen."
The boy's mother, Ria Reshma Ramkissoon, took the child with her when she joined the Christian-based 1 Mind Ministries and last had contact with her family in April 2006, when Javon was about 18 months old.
The death of the child found in the suitcase has been ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner's Office, but the cause of death is still pending.
Acting on a tip to Baltimore police, officials found the body in a shed behind a row home on the 700 block of South 13th Street, near Fitzwater Street.
The owner of the row home told police he had opened his home in 2007 to a woman he knew as Queen and who needed a place for family to stay.
The Baltimore Sun said court papers indicated that the cult eschewed health care and that members referred to each other with royal honorifics, with the leaders known as "King" and "Queen," and followers called "Prince" or "Princess."
"My sister was Princess Ria," Khadan said.
Philadelphia homicide Sgt. Robert Wilkins said the row home owner was surprised when Queen showed up with four other adults.
"He got caught up in the moment and he was trying to be a nice guy," he said.
When they left 10 days later, after he threatened to call police, the man allowed the group to store luggage in the shed.
Wilkins said that Queen's son called about a year ago saying the luggage would be picked up soon, but that he had not heard from them since.
Police believe the group has left the city.
Sterling Clifford, Baltimore's director of public affairs, said investigators there are awaiting the results of the DNA testing to confirm the victim's identity.
The family's suspicions that the child may have been starved to death have not been upheld as yet, Sterling said.
Javon's maternal grandmother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, went to court in Baltimore in an effort to gain custody of the boy, but the cult moved from place to place before disappearing from the city, said Colleen Khadan.
Khadan said her family was hoping against hope that the body is not Javon's. "My mother is going through a really, really rough time right now," she said. "My mother was so close to this baby. She was there when my nephew was born.
"If it is him, then maybe we can have a little closure on that and give him a proper burial. If it is not him, we continue searching."