Minister, Friend Speak Out For Odessa Mother Arrested For Child - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: |

Minister, Friend Speak Out For Odessa Mother Arrested For Child Endangerment

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

ODESSA - Following reports of two Odessa women being arrested on charges of child endangerment, a congregation stands up to say things aren't what they seem.

The mother and grandmother of three kids were taken into custody after an investigation revealed the children were living among a nest of insects and sleeping next to cat feces. 

It started when police were called to Medical Center Hospital where Joanna Hernandez had to take her 8-month-old son to the for scabies and a high fever.

But Mark Russell, who's a minister at the Jesus Lutheran Church where Hernandez and her children regularly attended church. Russell said they always come clean and put-together.

"We've never really seen any indication [of neglect] at all with these kids. None. She really cares about these kids. She's a good mother," Russell said.

Mrs. Russell added on. "I'm the product of an abusive childhood. I know what it's like. I know what it looks like in the mirror. And I never saw this in these children," she said.

CPS approached the couple to take custody of Hernandez's kids after she and her mother, Bobbie Jo Knight were being investigated for child abuse. They also instructed Hernandez to move out of the home. 

"Get out where? where do you go? We actually looked for places for Joanna to go," Russell said. "We called a number of different charities, a number of different organizations. No one had space for her and her kids."

Neighbors we spoke to Tuesday and the Russels both say Knight and Hernandez weren't the only ones living in the infested home on the 800 block of W. 25th Street.

"We knew that they had difficulty making ends meet. That's why they all live together," Russell said. They claim Joanna and her brother live with their Knight, with five kids in all. They say Hernandez's brother and sister-in-law have two kids of their own that live in the house. 

According to Russell, Hernandez is just a single mother stripped of everything because of poverty. That the bugs were just a recent problem, perhaps by Knight's deeply rooted love for cats.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Russell has been comforting and calming Hernandez during the process of finding her kids another home. They are now living safely with another of Hernandez's family members. 

"'Do you trust this person with your children with this person?' and her answer was an emphatic 'Yes!' I said, 'Do these people love your children and you?' 'Yes.' 'Do they have your best interests at heart?', and she answered yes.' So you have nothing to worry about," Mrs. Russell described.

Since then she's visited the children. She said the place "may not be a palace, but it's clean."

Late Monday night police arrested Knight and Hernandez. But the other couple hasn't been brought in. More than understanding why, the Russels just want justice for Hernandez.

"I really hope that they'll stop, review the circumstances and put on their thinking caps. Her kids need a decent clean place to live, of course, but she doesn't need to be in jail. That's criminal. That is the state at it's worst," he said.

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