Death of 2-year-old called a homicide in Union County

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Date: 2008-05-21

Death of 2-year-old called a homicide in Union County

5/21/2008 6:16:54 AM
Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY - What was thought to be an extreme case of neglect leading to a child's death has been ruled a homicide.

Union County Sheriff Tommy Wilhite said Tuesday that a preliminary autopsy report for a 2-year-old who died in a Memphis hospital Sunday night proved that the child's death was not an accident.

Ramone and Janet Barreto, the child's adoptive parents, were initially charged with two counts of child neglect and with the new information could be charged with a more severe crime, Wilhite said.

"The report did rule the child's death as homicide," said Wilhite. "We're still investigating the crime, so no new charges have been given at this time. There is still a lot we have to look at.

The 2-year-old was one of nine adopted children ranging from ages 2 to 17 living at the home at 824 County Road 87 near New Albany. The other eight children are in custody of the Department of Human Services on Tuesday. No signs of abuse were found with the other children.

Nearly all the children were Guatemalan, according to Wilhite. The ones who aren't Guatemalan aren't American, but their nationalities are unclear.

Deputies also are still investigating a puppy breeding operation on the property, which they discovered while looking into child-abuse reports after the 2-year-old was taken to the hospital.

Nearly 200 dogs, 25 cats and a duck were found crammed into 67 cages behind the home. Wilhite said the dogs were bred to sell puppies.

The Tupelo-Lee Humane Society was granted custody of the animals. Its staff and volunteers are keeping them fed and hydrated on the site until a clean, off-site location can be found.

At that point, each pet will receive a veterinary exam, medical care, grooming, vaccinations and spay or neuter operations. They will be adopted out to the public after that point.

"These animals are all going to need to be sedated or anesthesized and shaved entirely," said Mississippi State University School of Veterinary Medicine Professor Phil Bushby, one of the two veterinarians dispatched to the house Tuesday.

About the only good news was that the animals apparently had been well fed, said veterinarian Sonya Bryan from Tupelo's All-Animal Hospital.

Otherwise, the situation was bleak.

"As far as the overall condition," she said, "I've never seen anything like it."

Daily Journal reporter Emily Le Coz contributed to this story.


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