GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Family members of a teen girl who was allegedly starved to death by her mother in Georgia said there was a history of abuse that started when the girl and her mother lived in Grand Rapids.
Every family member 24 Hour News 8 spoke with on both sides of the girl's family -- even the suspected mother's father -- agreed on one point: They all said Ebony Berry hated her oldest daughter Markea Blakley-Berry.
"She hated her. She punished her daughter," said Markea's paternal grandmother Cheryl Goree. "She didn't have to kill my grandbaby like that."
Larry Stewart got the news of his granddaughter's death over the weekend from his daughter Berry, who now faces murder and first-degree child cruelty by deprivation charges.
Berry, 38, called Saturday to tell Stewart that her 16-year-old daughter Markea was unresponsive.
"I got her off the phone," Stewart said. "I said, 'You dial 911. Don't call me. Call me back and let me know what's going on with the child.'"
But by the time police got to the Atlanta-area home, Markea was dead.
"It's sad, you know. It's like something that doesn't even seem real yet to me," said Markea's father Mark Blakely. . "You got kids, try to spend as much time as you can with them. Try to keep them safe."
Her family said that was the end of 16 years of abuse.
"It's horrible," said Goree "It's sad. It's horrible [to] even think a child can go through that."
They said she weighed only 40 pounds.
"It's, like, mind-blowing to me. I can't even understand it," said Blakely . "How could anybody to that to somebody? You wouldn't even do your worst enemy that way."
MIchigan CPS launched more than a half-dozen investigations when the family lived in Grand Rapids, but only once did they substantiate abuse. The family has a lot of questions about why their cries for help couldn't save Markea.
"I think the state should have stepped in long before now," said Stewart.
Still, Berry ended up in the Atlanta area.
"She ran to do wrong," said Blakely. "Nobody helped, nobody tried to stop her. The system knew that she wasn't wrapped all the way tight."
They also told a story about a time when Markea ran away from the Georgia home. They said she was found in a Walmart in the area, where they said she was caught stealing food.
Larry Stewart told 24 Hour News 8 family members were told by Cobb County area detectives "that possibly for two years that my grandchild had been starved systematically."
Markea was born prematurely with mental disabilities, and she seemed to get special attention from her mother in the worst way.
"Her mother hated her for some reason. We don't know," said Goree.
Even Ebony's father Larry could see something wasn't right.
Her family last saw Markea in 2008 during her last visit to Grand Rapids. Family members said they spoke to Markea after that visit, but always while her mother was present so they could not talk openly.
Their concerns mounted over time. Drawings and notes from Markea - mailed without a return address - arrived.
Markea's grandmother said one of the last drawings Markea sent was at Thanksgiving. It showed a table full of food, but empty plates.
"Ham hearts, potato salad. She put it all down there, but when it came to her it was just a blank face. She didn't get to eat," said Goree.
When the family spoke on the phone, Markea couldn't speak, and her mother said the girl was asleep.
"I wish I had the willpower, I wish I had the strength, I wish I had the transportation to just go get them kids," said Goree.
Since Markea's death, family members found bizarre connections on her Facebook page where they say Ebony Berry became involved in a group that encouraged hunger. They've turned that information over to police in Atlanta as the active investigation continues.
More than anything else, they hope lessons learned from what happened here prevent it from happening to anyone else.
"It was just too many people involved over the years to stop this," Larry Stewart said, "and nothing was never done."
"She always said, "Grandma, I want to be in an angel costume,'" recalled Goree. "You're already an angel, baby."
A candlelight vigil was held for Markea Monday night in Grand Rapids.
Her family has set up a memorial fund and you can donate at any Lake Michigan Credit Union branch.
24 Hour News 8's Marlee Ginter contributed to this report.
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