A mother who starved her one-year-old son to death on the orders of a cult leader after he did not say 'amen' before a meal has said she was paralysed by fear and was 'crazy'.
Speaking for the first time, Ria Ramkissoon, who was 19 when her son died, said she wanted to save her son but was convinced she would be defying God's will if she did so.
The cult's leader, who called herself Queen Antoinette, had told Miss Ramkissoon that her 15-month-old son Javon Thompson needed to be starved as he was possessed by an evil spirit.
Miss Ramkissoon said that she thought she would be guaranteed eternal damnation if she did not follow Antoinette who cited the Bible as her authority.
'It's like it's somebody else's life, but it's not,' Miss Ramkissoon said in her first interview since Javon's death.
'That is my life, and those are the choices that I've made and those were the fears that I dealt with, no matter how ridiculous they may be to somebody else.'
The 19-year-old mother had been living with the woman for several months when her son did not say 'amen' before a meal one morning.
That word was one of the few Javon Thompson could not say at 15 months old, and Antoinette told Miss Ramkissoon not to feed him until he said it.
Over the next week, he whimpered and grew sluggish and sallow. By the time Antoinette relented and told Miss Ramkissoon to feed the boy, it was too late. Javon died in his mother's arms.
Investigators discovered his body more than a year later.
Antoinette is serving a 50-year sentence for second-degree murder. Her adult daughter and another follower are also in prison.
Now living in a faith-based treatment centre, Miss Ramkissoon said she knows it's difficult to comprehend how any mother could watch her son starve.
She freely uses the word 'crazy' to describe her actions.
For years, Miss Ramkissoon clung to the belief that Javon would be resurrected, as Antoinette said he would.
When Miss Ramkissoon pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death, she insisted on a provision stating that her plea would be withdrawn if Javon came back to life.
Only since her release from custody last year has she fully let go of that belief, allowing her to properly mourn the boy who would have turned six on Saturday.
'None of that had to happen to him. He's in a house surrounded by people who are basically doing this to him,' Miss Ramkissoon said.
'I felt like if anyone had a responsibility to him there that it was me, and I basically gave that up.
'So yeah, that's a difficult thing. To die and to suffer in that kind of way, that's not easy to have to swallow. That's something that I'm very much responsible for, as much as anybody else.'
Miss Ramkissoon said she joined the cult after she became disillusioned with traditional churches in Baltimore where she lived after moving from her native Trinidad aged 7.
She got pregnant around her 18th birthday with her boyfriend who ended up in jail.
She claims that during her pregnancy her step-father tried to choke her.
Members of Antoinette's group took turns recruiting Miss Ramkissoon. Though they were stingy with details about the arrangement, she was desperate, and their offer began to sound attractive.
'I had a really strong fear that [Javon] was going to get taken away from me if I didn't know what I was doing,' she said. 'That's kind of when I took things in my own hands.'
In April 2006, Ramkissoon asked her mother to drive her and Javon to a park. She packed a few outfits and other supplies for him in a diaper bag.
For herself, she brought nothing but the clothes she wore. Cult members met them and drove them to their home.
Miss Ramkissoon stopped answering her cellphone, then turned it off and handed it over to Antoinette, who forbid her followers from going to the doctor.
Antoinette reportedly seemed wary of Javon from the beginning, planting the seeds of doubt in Miss Ramkissoon's mind.
Out of the blue, she would say, 'There's something wrong with that child.'
After he refused to say 'amen', she said Javon had a 'spirit of rebellion' inside him, and that only fasting could exorcise it.
When Javon died in late 2006 or early 2007, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection. They packed the body into a suitcase.
Miss Ramkissoon sprayed it with disinfectant and stuffed the suitcase with fabric softener sheets to mask the odour.
Miss Ramkissoon said she now realises that Javon died because of her own decisions, not because of God's will.
'It is difficult,' she said, 'because I don't think it's settled, fully, the weight of what was lost.'
Ramkissoon said she's often asked how she can still believe in God. But she credits her faith, and the fellowship she's found at the treatment centre, for allowing her to take control of her life.
'Coming from a cult, people don't want to hear you talk about God,' she said.
'I may have... approached it the wrong way. It doesn't mean that God isn't true and that the community and love and family don't exist in the right way.'