State may have missed chance to save girl found dead in truck

Date: 2011-02-16

BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND DIANA MOSKOVITZ

Florida child welfare administrators may have missed two opportunities to save a 10-year-old twin girl who was found dead and covered in acid in the back of a pickup truck Monday off Interstate-95 in Palm Beach County.

About eight months before Nubia's Doctor death, the state Department of Children and Families received a report that something may not have been right in the girl's foster home in Miami.

The June report to DCF's abuse hotline said Nubia had been acting out inappropriately, suggesting she might have been experiencing difficulties.

According to the report, Nubia had been suffering from "uncontrollable'' hunger, and had been stealing food. The girl had become very thin, and was losing her hair. She also was observed to be "nervous'' and "jittery.''

Though Nubia suffered from a medical condition - sources say it involved the girl's hormones - there was no documentation in the girl's file that she had seen a doctor for the concerns raised in June, a source said.

Sources with knowledge of the case do not know whether DCF took any action in response to the report, which was coded in the agency's child welfare computer system as a "special conditions'' report, as opposed to an abuse or neglect case. Typically, special conditions reports do not lead to the removal of a child from his or her parents.

On Feb. 10, DCF received a report from a teacher that Nubia and her fraternal twin brother, Victor, age 10, were being bound by their hands and feet and made to stand in the bathtub. That day, an investigator tried to locate the children, but was told by their adoptive mother, Carmen Barahona, that she and her husband, Jorge Barahona, were separated, and that he - not her - had custody of the twins. However, a report issued later suggested that Carmen Barahona was "implicated'' in Nubia's disappearance. An investigator was told Carmen knew the whereabouts of Jorge and the children.

On Monday, authorities came across a red pickup truck along Interstate-95 in Palm Beach County. The truck, emblazed with the name of Jorge Barahona's extermination company. Inside the truck, authorities found Victor in the midst of a seizure. The twins' adoptive father, Jorge Barahona, was slumped behind the wheel, and both Victor and Barahona were suffering from chemical burns. Both were overcome by toxic fumes.

What authorities did not discover until eight hours later - after DCF officials alerted them - that Nubia's partially decomposed body had remained in the red pickup hidden from sight. Emergency workers, wearing hazardous materials suits, were retrieve her body at about 5 p.m. The hazmat members had returned to the truck hours after state DCF investigators, searching for the family's four adopted children, could not locate Nubia.

The roots of the tragedy that unfolded on Monday apparently began the previous week when the Barahona's granddaughter - who stayed with the couple often after school - disclosed to a therapist that terrible things were happening in her grandparents' home, a source told The Miami Herald.

The granddaughter told her therapist that she had seen the two adoptive twins bound by the hands and feet and forced to stay in the bathroom. The little girl told her therapist she wanted to open her "piggy bank'' so she could find the money to rescue the twins.

A record of the allegations said the grandmother, Carmen, called the alleged abuse "a family secret'' that was "just between us.''

On Wednesday, West Palm Beach police, who are in charge of the criminal investigation, filed an affidavit detailing their investigation. They reported that Jorge Barahona had told them he was trying to commit suicide on Monday because he was distraught over Nubia's death.

Barahona told police that he was upset over the death of Nubia and was trying to kill himself. Barahona said he pulled over to the side of the highway. He gave Victor sleeping pills and doused himself with gasoline, the affidavit said. Barahona intended to set himself on fire, but he couldn't because Victor was with him.

But police said they found inconsistencies between Barahona's story and the injuries on Victor, which led them to charge the father with aggravated child abuse.

Police said they found Victor soaked in chemicals and sitting in the truck next to a five-gallon gas tank.

Investigators later learned from hospital officials that the boy had extensive physical injuries. According to the police affidavit, the boy had a fractured arm, fractured clavicle, marks from some type of cord or rope around both wrists, and scarring on his lower abdomen and butt. The body of the boy's sister was found inside a plastic bag.

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