Siblings of the 3-year-old boy whose skeletal remains were found Tuesday told investigators their mother starved their brother to death, court records reveal.
In an interim complaint filed by police with Pima County Justice Court, the children of Raquel Marcella Barreras, 39, said their mother starved 3-year-old Roman Barreras and put his body in a toy chest in the back yard.
Barreras, 39, was booked into the Pima County jail Tuesday and faces one count each of first-degree murder and child abuse. Her husband, Martin Raymond Barreras, 45, also was jailed and faces one count of child abuse.
The complaint states Martin Barreras knew his wife was abusing the boy and confronted her, “but did nothing further to stop her from starving (the) child.”
The couple has four other children, a 12-year-old son and three daughters ages 19, 7 and 4.
Earlier this year, the couple was evicted from a triplex unit in the 700 block of West Idaho Street near South 12th Avenue and West Nebraska Street on the southwest side. The landlord, who was cleaning up the property and throwing out belongings the family left behind, found Roman’s skeletal remains.
Roman was apparently forced to live in a room behind the unit, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said at a news conference Wednesday.
An autopsy will determine when and how the child died, Villaseñor said Wednesday.
Villaseñor said three of the couple’s other minor children have been turned over to the state’s child protective services. A fourth child is 19 and was not placed in protective custody, he said. The younger children are a 12-year-old son, a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old daughter, he said.
Villaseñor said police officers had been to the house before, primarily for reports about the older children not attending school.
He said the family had contact with the state’s child welfare agency. The agency, formerly called Child Protective Services, had taken the children away on occasions but returned them to the parents, he said.
The chief said that when officers went to the home previously there were no outward signs of the children being abused. He said the children taken into protective custody appear to be in good health.
After the bones were discovered Tuesday, police contacted the family later that evening, he said. They were at another home, near the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.
A spokeswoman for the state’s Division of Child Safety and Family Services, formerly CPS, confirmed caseworkers had contact with the Barreras family, with the last involvement in August 2012. More information about the contact was not immediately available Wednesday, said Jennifer Bowser, an agency spokeswoman.
Relatives of the Barreras family are scheduled to hold a news conference this morning with Homicide Survivors, a nonprofit organization that works with the families of homicide victims.
On Wednesday, neighbors of the Barreras family said it felt as though they were living a nightmare to learn of the allegations that a small child was killed and his body hidden on the property.
Several neighbors said they did not see a small boy with the family’s other children.
“They moved here in April 2013 and were evicted in January,” said Maria Ramirez, 48, who lived next door to the Barrerases.
“I did not know them well. They stayed to themselves and isolated the children. The kids did not go to school and played mostly in their yard behind a locked wrought-iron fence,” Ramirez said.
She and another neighbor, Felina Arbizo, 27, both said they allowed the family to take water from their outdoor faucets.
A couple of times, Ramirez said, the children came on behalf of their mother asking for milk, which she provided to the family.
Arbizo said her two daughters, ages 6 and 7, played with the younger Barreras girls outdoors. “Once I heard the news about the skeletal remains found in a toy chest on their property, I just could not understand how somebody can do that and go on with life like nothing happened,” she said.
Raquel Barreras and the eldest daughter stayed mostly indoors, Ramirez said.
Another neighbor, Ofelia Hurtado, 58, said Martin Barreras would leave before dawn to go to work as a laborer, apparently in construction, and not return until 6 p.m. or later.
“The family would sit outdoors sometimes at 3 a.m. and allow the children to play,” Hurtado said. “This was very strange.”
Read more of this story in Friday's Star.