JERSEYVILLE, Ill. (KMOX) – Undeterred by one of the first truly cold evenings so far this fall, more than 100 people gathered at the fairgrounds north of Jerseyville Thursday evening.
Many were armed with battery-powered candles to better stand up against the brisk November winds as they took part in a prayer vigil for 6-year-old Liam Roberts.
“For Liam, it’s over. The suffering has ended,” said Bo Schultz, pastor at the Baptist Church in Fieldon Ill., who led the service. “He’s finally found something in death that he did not have in life — love and care.”
There was plenty of sorrow and sadness as you would expect for a remembrance service honoring a child who only lived to age 6 — but there was also quite a bit of anger on display, as well.
“No one cared enough to know that two children were in a basement being starved to death,” said Missy Walker, who helped to organize the prayer vigil. “How does that happen?”
When it was suggested that perhaps people didn’t want to get involved in the personal affairs of another family, Walker exploded in rage.
“There’s nothing that would stop a real person that’s human enough, that has a heart and is a child of God, to stop anyone from beating the door down and saving two kids,” she said. “People knew….people knew that they were there.”
She was referring both to Liam and to another child, age 7, who was found in the Roberts home who had also allegedly been mistreated and is now recovering in the hospital.
Liam’s father, Michael Roberts, and his stepmother, Georgena Roberts, are charged with first-degree murder, felony child endangerment and misdemeanor child endangerment.
They reportedly withheld food from Liam Roberts over a period of two years as a form of punishment.
The boy only weighed 17 lbs. when he was finally taken to the hospital late last week.
He was pronounced dead on arrival.
Now, many in the community about 40 miles north of St. Louis are asking how it could have happened in the first place.
“We grieve because somebody should have done something,” suggested Pastor Bo Schultz. “A parent, a friend, a neighbor, a case worker, a court official, a minister…somebody.”
That’s when one woman stepped forward to say that while neighbors of the Roberts’ are heartsick, they also feel as if they’re being unfairly judged by others for doing nothing.
She pointed out that the Roberts family rarely, if ever, came outside, and there were no toys in the yard to indicate there were children inside the house and that something was horribly amiss.
But Jerseyville resident Joyce Murphy just hopes that if they’re convicted, Michael and Georgena Roberts receive the proper punishment.
“It’s awful, just awful. I think they should just lock ’em up and throw away the key,” Murphy says. “If anybody can do this to a child, they’re not human. They’re just not human.”