A 6-year-old girl, her mother dying of AIDS, stood in front of a freight train Tuesday morning and let it hit her.
The death was ruled suicide by the Medical Examiner's Office, the youngest victim ever in Broward County.
Jacqueline "Jackie" Johnson, had talked about killing herself after learning that her mother was incurably ill and had said she wanted to be in heaven with her mother, police and family members said.
Jackie was on her way to school in this Fort Lauderdale suburb with her 8-year-old brother, Velarius, her sister, Stephiferia, 7, and a cousin about 7:30 a.m.
She walked between the rails on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and said she wanted to die, the children said.
As the northbound train, its horn blaring, bore down on Jackie, the children pulled her off the tracks. Again saying, "I want to die," Jackie broke away and stood near the rail until the train hit her, throwing her about 20 feet, police said.
"They told me she said she "wanted to become an angel and be with her mother,'
" said Gloria Wright, a cousin of Jackie's who had been caring for the girl.
Though the engineer hit his brakes when he saw the child, the 63-car train was going about 35 mph when it hit her, police said.
"She was hit on the back of the right leg, which threw her forward and broke her neck," said Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald Wright.
Because of her mother's illness and lengthy hospital stay, Jackie had been staying with Gloria Wright, just two blocks from where she was hit.
Gloria Wright rushed to the scene when she heard of the accident.
"They all walked together every day. This morning, I walked them across Phippen (Road)," Gloria Wright said. "It wasn't five minutes, my daughter came running back and said Jackie was hit by a train and she was dead.
"I ran over to the tracks. Her head was on the rocks. .
. I was too scared to pick her up."
As depressed as Jackie may have been over her mother's illness, Gloria Wright said she was basically a happy child.
"She liked to play a lot and ride bicycles," she said. "She was very friendly. She was doing very good in school."
Winsome Bright, Jackie's kindergarten teacher, said she didn't notice any signs of depression or behavioral aberrations of any kind.
Wright, the medical examiner, said suicide by a child so young was extremely rare.
Wright based his ruling of suicide on three things, he said.
"First, she had spoken with the other children and indicated she planned on killing herself," Wright said. "She put herself in front of the train twice. And, the testimony of the engineer is that she just stood by the side of the track."
Homicide detectives from the Broward Sheriff's Office came to the same conclusion after talking with the three children.
"This was a fairly spontaneous thing," said Capt. Richard Scheff. "When she saw the train, she saw it as an opportunity. Clearly, suicide was something that was on her mind. We learned that several times recently, she said she wanted to get hit by the train."
The idea of a very young child committing suicide might be unthinkable, but it isn't impossible.
"The first thing that struck my mind when I heard about this case was: How does a young kid think they can kill themselves?" said psychologist Traci Seidman, a Sunrise psychologist.
"The idea of killing herself could have been premeditated, but the plan of how to do it wouldn't have been. So maybe at that moment, a little light bulb went off."
Seidman said she treats a number of children with severe depression, who talk openly of suicide.
"Sometimes, it's hard for the average person to understand what could depress a young child so much that they'd want to kill themselves," she said.
Most children who commit suicide are older, old enough to understand life and how to end it. Young children can't think in the abstract and can't make the plans that would lead to death, even if they want to die, Seidman said.
But why would a child do this? There could be many reasons.
The impending loss of a parent is one. The stresses of her life could have compounded that. The thought of being in heaven, with her mother, was perhaps the most compelling of all, Seidman said.
"If you believe you will be with your mother with the angels, particularly for a young child, then (suicide) would seem to be a very smart move."
_ Sun-Sentinel staffers Lee Eric Smith, Jeffrey Rubin, and Yvonne McClain contributed to this story.