Pastor's sway over his followers stirs questions as police probe Irvington girl's death

The New Jersey Star-Ledger/May 25, 2011

In the barren rooms where the horror played out, all was white.

White paint on the walls and ceiling. White sheets and blankets on the floor. White cloth across the windows. White robes on the dead and dying children.

This was the makeshift house of worship where Venette Ovilde and her roommate practiced their unusual brand of faith, one espoused by a shrouded, would-be baker who called himself pastor and who held court during services there every day.

Once an ordinary apartment on a busy Irvington street, it is where authorities said 8-year-old Christiana Glenn, starved and gaunt, died of a broken femur that went untreated. And it is where Christiana's two younger siblings - a 6-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl - slowly wasted away, their own broken bones unseen by a doctor.

As the investigation into Christiana's death continued - and as relatives of Ovilde and her roommate spoke of the all-consuming influence wielded by the pair's spiritual leader, Emanyel Rezireksyon Kris - the building's landlord provided a detailed description of the apartment's interior.

William Weathers, who said he had twice gone into the two-bedroom apartment to fix a leaky faucet in recent months, said it was all but devoid of furniture, with only a table and chairs in the kitchen and a foam mattress in the living room.

"Initially there was furniture. It was decorated," said Weathers, 55, who rented the Chancellor Avenue apartment to Ovilde about five years ago. "When they transitioned to their religious thing, they took all of it out and put it on the curb."

On his recent visits, Weathers was taken aback by the change, the all-white decor suggesting a kind of shrine. Ovilde attributed her changing lifestyle to a "spiritual awakening," he said.

During one visit in February, Weathers said, he saw the children on their knees, hands clasped before them in prayer. Weathers didn't get a long look, and robes covered their bodies, obscuring their stature.

In retrospect, haunted by the image of authorities carrying out Christiana's siblings - alive but limp and emaciated - Weathers said he wishes he had looked harder.

"I just feel awful," he said. "It's frightening to know how something like this could have happened right under my nose."

Ovilde, 29, has been charged with aggravated manslaughter and child endangerment in Christiana's death. She faces additional counts for allegedly injuring and neglecting her two younger children.

Ovilde's roommate, Myriam Janvier, 23, is charged only with child endangerment. Both women remain in the Essex County Jail.

In addition, the sources said, the apartment had almost no food when investigators responded there Sunday. The sources asked that their names be withheld because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Family members of Janvier, meanwhile, spoke today of the sway Rezireksyon Kris held over his small congregation of women and of how the spiritual leader transformed them.

The relatives' account is similar to one told by Ovilde's sister earlier this week.

It was about three years ago when Ovilde and Janvier met Rezireksyon Kris, 37, who has not been charged or named a suspect in the case. He declined to comment when approached by a reporter Tuesday, saying only, "May God bless you."

In short order, the relatives said, the women had embraced his small sect, which he called "Walking With Christ."

They began wearing robes and headscarves, carried Bibles wherever they went and engaged in long, loud prayer sessions, their singsong chants audible from the street.

In July 2010, Ovilde legally changed her name to Krisla Rezireksyon Kris, court documents show. The name, drawn from Haitian Creole, roughly translates to "Christ is here." Ovilde legally gave her children the same last name.

In Ovilde's new life, Christiana Glenn became Kristiana Rezireksyon Kris.

Janvier is not known to have changed her name, relatives said, but she was also initially a believer in Emanyel Rezireksyon Kris, who is in the process of opening a Haitian-style bakery on North Avenue in Union Township. His home is nearby.

Little by little, the relatives said, Janvier withdrew from her family. A cousin, Marie Charles, said Janvier had been a popular basketball player during her high school years in Elizabeth. A Haiti native who came to the United States at age 13, Janvier eventually wanted to open her own hair salon, Charles said.

Photos of Janvier, taken as recently as 2006, show her in make-up, smirking flirtatiously in some shots and smiling in others. Charles, describing her cousin as a "very pretty girl," said her nickname around the neighborhood used to be "Sexy M."

"She was the Myriam that we all know and love," said Charles, 29. "Then it all went downhill from there."

Charles and two other cousins of Janvier said Rezireksyon Kris ordered the women to fast daily and prohibited them from working, using a cell phone or contacting their families.

On certain days, he'd order them not to drink water, the relatives said, adding that they noticed physical changes in their cousin on the few occasions they saw her.

"I could feel her bones when I hugged her," Charles said.

The changes became more sweeping, and far more disturbing, as the years passed, relatives said. Janvier started to wear only the white garments associated with the "Walking With Christ" faith.

She stopped speaking English, choosing instead to speak Creole as Rezireksyon Kris frequently does, relatives said.

Charles said Rezireksyon Kris tried to recruit her into his congregation as well. But she said she wanted no part of it when, during a sermon in Ovilde's apartment, he said a family friend who had been shot to death would be "condemned to hell."

"To me it was disturbing," Charles said. "If you're a shepherd of our heavenly father, that's not how you talk."

There were occasional phone calls home - made surreptitiously, relatives said - in which Janvier indicated she wanted out of her new life. The final call came just a few days before her arrest, another cousin, Taleisha Charles, said today.

"I'm in trouble," Taleisha Charles said her cousin told her. "I need you to come."

Then the line went dead.

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