IU South Bend student takes forefront of international advocacy campaign for Liberian assault victim
By: Mira Costello
This story includes descriptions of a violent crime.
On Sept. 16, IU South Bend social work student Princess Dalieh heard some troubling news: Jessica Lloyd, a young woman about the age of Dalieh’s sister, had allegedly been the victim of an attempted murder in Caldwell, Liberia.
It’s not often that international headlines find roots in South Bend, but Dalieh’s situation is unique: born in Ivory Coast, Africa, she has many friends and family members living in Liberia, who brought the news to her just two days after the attack happened.
While Dalieh and Lloyd don’t know each other personally, Dalieh said she has multiple connections in Liberia that have given her unique insight about the situation.
According to Dalieh, Lloyd entered a traditional marriage with American missionary Lucas Richard, who was supported in his travels to Africa by Creekside Church in Iowa. Dalieh said Lloyd became pregnant and later had a miscarriage, which is alleged by Lloyd’s family to have been caused by Richard administering an injection. While these allegations are not currently confirmed, their existence has been corroborated by other reporting.
Then, on Sept. 14, Lloyd and her family report that Richard lured her to a rural area, struck her with a tire iron, and began to cut her throat; fortunately, a bystander saw and called for help, likely saving Lloyd’s life. Contrarily, Richard claimed that Lloyd was struck by a motorcycle, which caused her injuries.
Dalieh doesn’t believe this.
“How do you describe her wounds?” Dalieh asked. “That’s not from getting hit by a motorcycle. Her arms, her legs…something would have been injured. But the only injuries come from her head and her neck.”
At the time of publication, Jessica Lloyd is currently recovering from her injuries at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, while Richard remains ineligible for bail at South Beach Prison in Monrovia.
However, while it may seem that Lloyd’s family can rest while Richard is incarcerated, Dalieh explained that Liberian politics and a complicated history of involvement with the U.S. make this case much bigger than the alleged crime alone.
Dalieh described Liberia’s historic ties to the U.S. through the American Colonization Project, a 19th-century movement that resettled thousands of enslaved people to Africa in what is now Liberia. In many ways, she said, Liberia functions like a satellite of the U.S., which makes it difficult for the Liberian justice system to operate independently of conflicts of interest. And, with Liberia in the middle of election season, no one in the government or justice system there seems to be comfortable taking a stance about Lloyd’s case.
“It’s so hard to know who’s on your side. Everyone has their own gain in this situation, and even our Liberian government could easily get bribed by the American government to leave this case alone. They have pressure from higher-ups who could stop funding to Liberia or bring war to Liberia,” Dalieh said. “There are so many things that are aligning with this. It’s not just one fight – there’s so many different avenues that we’re fighting.”
Dalieh claimed that cases of crimes by U.S. citizens against Liberians are often dropped, lost or forgotten, and that American missionaries can be especially risky for vulnerable people like Jessica Lloyd and her family.
“Our own government, sadly, might be involved in this corruption,” she said. “They’re trying to stay in the good graces of the U.S. government.”
When Lloyd’s parents approved her marriage to the missionary, Dalieh said, they weren’t thinking of the potential risk; they were thinking of the opportunities it might create for their daughter. However, Dalieh explained that Lucas Richard operates a church and school in Liberia and has been on multiple missions to Africa and Liberia throughout his decade-long support from Creekside Church, which she believes means that the potential scope of his crimes is large.
“Our organization who have been working toward this case on our own have gathered from the community that he has done this before in Liberia,” she said, clarifying that those reports have not been legally verified yet.
Dalieh said this raises larger issues of White saviorism in mission work.
“There’s a video of [Richard at one of his schools in Liberia] saying, ‘We come to these countries because these people are illiterate, and we’re bringing them our teachings because they don’t know any better,’” Dalieh said. “But actually, these people do know better, they are just in a situation where they don’t have the opportunities that you have, and they think you’re coming to help them, but you’re coming to take advantage of them.”
Liberia’s political corruption, Dalieh said, reaches into all aspects of life, including Lloyd’s hospital treatment. In a conversation with Cynthia Lloyd, Jessica’s mother, Dalieh said Cynthia described the Liberian government surveilling the Lloyd family at the hospital and doctors withholding proper food and care from Jessica.
The Lloyd family has been placed in a tough position, though, as Lois Richard, Lucas Richard’s U.S. wife, has allegedly offered to pay Jessica’s medical bills in exchange for settlement of the criminal case. Cynthia has refused.
While Cynthia could not comment extensively about hospital mistreatment, being under surveillance or Liberia’s judicial corruption, she sent a video-recorded statement to The Preface urging people in the U.S. to support her daughter’s case.
“It was by the grace of God she was able to survive it,” Cynthia said. “I will not sleep, I will just be worrying over it the whole night. So I want you to please help me that she will get proper treatment.”
So, for Dalieh and about 50 other Iowans, Liberians and Liberian Americans passionate about the case, the pieces were falling into place. Amidst concerns of corruption, fear for other young women in Liberia and frustration about decades of injustice, the group came together as Justice for Jessica.
“The young people of Liberia are saying, ‘enough is enough,” Dalieh said. “It’s not just an African fight; no, it’s on your soil too.”
Remarkably, on Sept. 17 – just one day after receiving word of the attack – Dalieh traveled to Urbandale, Iowa with Justice for Jessica members from around the U.S. to demonstrate in front of Creekside Church during their Sunday service.
The church asked the group to stop protesting on the condition that they “join forces” for a fundraiser to help the Lloyd family, but the demonstrators didn’t bite.
“It was to say, ‘hey, Creekside – we’re watching you. We see you, and we’re not gonna let this go,’” Dalieh said. “They have even been able to get into the minds of the Liberian pastors in Iowa, and now they’re trying to get those pastors to stop us from protesting on [Creekside] grounds.”
The group demonstrated again on Sunday, Sept. 24, but is now turning their focus to Iowa state representatives on a local and national level in hopes of encouraging the state to investigate the church.
Dalieh has also supported Justice for Jessica’s Liberian branch, who hosted a march to a Liberian police station with a petition provided by the U.S. group to encourage the police not to take bribes and to ensure Richard’s arrest. They also provided the petition to the United Nation Women’s Office in Liberia, who has claimed they support the cause.
“Words are words, but we’re waiting to see action,” Dalieh said.
While Dalieh might be the only one at IU South Bend or in Northern Indiana to lead the charge for Justice for Jessica, she said she hopes to find support from other compassionate people who realize that Lloyd’s case is a human rights issue.
“We just want people who will be dedicated to the cause – we don’t want any speculators or people who are there just to watch. We want people who are coming in with resources,” she said
If you are interested in demonstrating with Justice for Jessica, helping connect the group with political resources or donating directly to Jessica Lloyd’s family, you can contact Dalieh at email@example.com.