Murder warrants issued in 3-year-old's death

Date: 2010-07-20

BY STEVE E. SWENSON

"The kids are fine."

That's what Alberto Garcia told his mother on the day before a dead child was left in his southwest Bakersfield home and both he and his wife disappeared, his mother, Maria Garcia, said Tuesday.

But now a murder warrant has been issued for Alberto and Carla Garcia in connection with the discovery Sunday morning of the dead girl, 3-year-old Serenity Gandara, Bakersfield police said Tuesday.

Also left at the home in the 5900 block of Summer Country Drive was the girl's 4-year-old brother, and that led to an additional charge of child endangerment in the warrant against the couple, Sgt. Mary DeGeare said.

DeGeare offered no new information on the investigation or on efforts by authorities to locate Albert and Carla Garcia and the three children they left with. She has said police believe the family fled to Mexico.

The abandoned children were born to Alberto Garcia's sister, 22-year-old Yesenia Garcia. Yesenia's family said that in the past she's had problems with drugs. Court records show she had one arrest in April 2008 for being under the influence of drugs and child cruelty, but those charges were dismissed more than a year later. She has no adult convictions in Kern County.

Maria Garcia, who is the mother of Alberto and Yesenia, said her daughter is doing much better now.

Maria Garcia is also taking care of a third child of Yesenia's, Juliana, who is 1 year, 4 months old.

Neighbors of Alberto and Carla Garcia said the couple were trying to adopt Serenity and her brother, who Maria Garcia identified as Isaiah.

When they disappeared sometime early Sunday, the couple took with them their own children, a boy and girl ages 4 and 5, as well as a 9-year-old boy from Carla's previous marriage.

Maria Garcia broke down in tears Tuesday when she was asked about her reaction to the news about Serenity.

She said she called Alberto Garcia on Sunday and left a voice mail asking him, "What happened." She said she told him, "You come back. Tell the police what happened."

Maria Garcia said she had been prevented from seeing the couple's children for the last 14 months after witnessing an apparent incident of abuse and complaining about it to her daughter-in-law.

At that time, Maria said, she saw Carla hit Isaiah with a shoe, leaving a mark on his leg.

"I told her you cannot do that," Maria said. "They are not your children."

She said she told Carla she wanted to report her to Child Protective Services. In response, Carla banned her from seeing the children, Maria said.

Maria said she did not report the shoe incident to CPS until earlier this year after months had passed. She said she had repeatedly asked CPS to check on the children because of her inability to check on them herself.

She said CPS asked her if she had any proof of abuse. She said the CPS worker said nothing in response to the shoe incident.

Maria said she regularly talked with Alberto and he always said the kids were fine, including a conversation as recently as Saturday.

She said as far as she knows, CPS never acted on her requests and that had made her very upset.

"I wanted my baby alive," she said. "I don't want my baby over there (the coroner's office)."

Elena Acosta, assistant director for CPS, said she couldn't comment on a specific case. But generally, if CPS gets a request to check on the welfare of children, the least that would happen is that it would get recorded.

She said if immediate action were necessary, that would be taken too.

She said it was understandable that Maria Garcia might not have heard of CPS' findings because agency policy is generally that the person who asked CPS for help will not be informed of the result. The overall goal of CPS is for the long-term health and welfare of children, she said.

Police had never been called to the home of the Garcias to check on the two abandoned children, DeGeare said.

Maria Garcia said she has asked to take care of Isaiah so he can be with his sister. She said she was told the placement of the boy may take awhile.

In the meantime, the boy is in protective custody, DeGeare said.

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