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Carleen's story of abuse starts with an automobile ride 25 years ago. "I remember being excited to go home with Daddy," she says during one of several interviews with the Voice. But they took a detour. Her father pulled over and forced her to perform oral sex on him. She was just four years old. It was the beginning of years of abuse for both her and her sister, she says.
The girls were vulnerable from the start, born into a chaotic family with an unfortunate set of parents. After their father immigrated to the U.S. as a young man, he became entangled with Lucy-Anna Harris, a fellow Liberian who was four years his junior. By the time Lucy became pregnant with Carleen, Eric was already cheating on her and bringing other girlfriends over. "He was a womanizer, he liked lots of women, especially small girls," Lucy writes in a series of e-mail exchanges from Liberia. When she protested, he kicked her in the stomach and back. Despite the abuse and philandering, the couple had two more children together. Brigitte was born in a car outside a Staten Island hospital in 1981. (Both Lucy and Eric would go on to have many more children by multiple partners. Lucy has had 16 children, only 10 of whom are still living. Eric fathered an unknown number of kidsrelatives estimate that it is also in the teens. Neither has a history of taking particularly good care of their offspring.)
At some point, Eric became serious with one of his other girlfriends, a teenager named Joanne.
"I never stopped loving Eric, I only let him go the day he got married to Joanne," Lucy says. With their relationship finally severed, Lucy packed up and went back to Liberia, leaving all the kids with a baby-sitter. She says now that she went home to attend a funeral and simply did not have the money to return to New York.
The children were eventually taken into state custody, where Eric quickly claimed Carleen, whom he and his new bride had always considered their own. They later went back to pick up Brigitte and two other boys that Lucy had left behind.
After he took in the children, including one boy whom he may not have fathered, Eric's reputation as a nice guy was bolstered within New York's Liberian diaspora. The community knew him as a devoted dad and successful entrepreneur who ran a record store, an import-export business, and a taxi and limo service, all based in the Park Hill neighborhood of Staten Island.
Carleen Goodridge with the father her sister would later kill, Eric Goodridge
photo: Courtesy Alicia Hill
At 10 or 11 years old, Carleen told her stepmother, Joanne, about the abuse. "She told me to get ready to talk to the police, but then my father talked to her and said, 'I was showing her how to clean herself.' And they blew it off. My father was very manipulative. . . . There were times where our father would say stuff like, 'A dad is supposed to try a daughter out before her husband.' He would say things like, 'It's OK for a father and daughter to sleep together.' People probably heard it, but you're just paralyzed to comment on something like that. I'm sure more people knew, but, like me, people didn't want to say anything."
Carleen and Brigitte's lives diverged in 1994 after Eric and Joanne divorced and the children were split up. Eric had returned to Liberia a couple years earlier, and now sent for Brigitte and her two brothers to join him in Monrovia. Carleen, now 15, stayed behind with her stepmother and other siblings. For Carleen, the abuse was already becoming a distant memory that she preferred to forget. But for Brigitte, it was about to start all over again.
While Carleen lived with her stepmother, whom she describes as "wonderful, funny, a cornball," Brigitte was in Monrovia in the middle of a civil war.
At 12, Brigitte ran away to stay with her mother, Lucy, whom she had not seen since she was a baby. Lucy took her in, but living in a cramped five-story apartment building with several other siblings, the family had little to eat and struggled to survive.
"We had to help sustain her sometimes," says Wolo Della, a Pentecostal pastor in Monrovia who lived in Lucy's building. "I asked her why she was going through all she was going though . . . why wasn't [Brigitte] living with her father, or why the father was not supporting them." Lucy told him that Brigitte was being molested by her father and appealed to him for help. But "[Eric] was always one place and very busy, and I was a very busy pastor . . . so we never talked." Della says he believed the story of abuse, but did nothing about it. "Whenever a war takes place, a lot of things happen. A lot of people become so evil and negatively inspired," Della says. "There have been a lot of rape cases around."