Fears of abuse raised years ago
By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, Michelle Casady
School officials repeatedly alerted Child Protective Services of their suspicions that three adopted children of a day care owner were being abused and neglected several years before they were found last week bruised and malnourished.
“The principal recalls being very concerned about the safety of these children, and that was expressed” to CPS, said Pascual Gonzalez, spokesman for Northside Independent School District. “Multiple visits were made to the school by CPS social workers.”
The children, one now 8 and fraternal twins age 10, sporadically attended Scarborough Elementary, missing months at a time after they arrived in 2008, he added.
The Children's Shelter, which provided services to the children for six months in 2009, also reported to CPS when one child missed 60 days of school one year.
Neighbors in the couple's Northwest Side subdivision said for years they had thought the behavior of Tim, Iliana and Rogelio Archuleta was unusual and secretive, but were shocked by allegations that the children were abused and neglected.
The 10-year-old girl told investigators last week that she and her two siblings were being starved, beaten, punished for stealing food, locked in closets and forced to bite each others' toes, after which they were made to pour bleach on the wounds, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
They were made to sleep in the bathtub, she said, with the sliding door locked and only a bucket for their wastes.
They sometimes were made to eat butter and drink water until they vomited, and then were forced to eat the vomit as well, she said.
Iliana Archuleta, 40, owner and operator of the Honey Tree Pre-school and Child Development Center in the 8300 block of Culebra Road, still was wanted Thursday night on three warrants, accusing her of serious bodily injury to a child.
Her relative, Rogelio Archuleta, 26, who worked at the center and lived with the couple, was arrested at the center Wednesday on three charges of causing serious bodily injury to his two nephews and a niece.
The state shut down the day care center, though none of the allegations involve children there.
Mary Walker, CPS spokeswoman, said she couldn't comment on the adoptive family's history with the agency because of confidentiality rules and the ongoing investigation.
Gonzalez said the children attended Scarborough Elementary at 12280 Silver Pointe for the full school year starting in August 2008, but then didn't return to school until January 2010. They stayed through May 2010.
They attended for a full school year after that, but didn't return in fall 2011.
The adoptive parents “would say they were taking them to a charter school or were homeschooling them,” he said. “That's all they have to say. They don't have to prove it.”
School personnel are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect to state authorities. Gonzalez didn't know what, if any, action was taken by CPS as a result of the staff reports.
The most recent CPS investigation began Saturday after Iliana Archuleta called an ambulance to her home after her 8-year-old son suffered a seizure.
Neighbors said Iliana rode with the boy to the hospital. As soon as the ambulance left, neighbors said, Tim Archuleta and Rogelio Archuleta as well as the two biological children began loading the family truck with boxes and suitcases.
“It wasn't 20 minutes later and they were gone,” said a neighbor, who like the others didn't want to be identified because they fear retaliation.
Hospital staffers found bruises all over the boy, who weighed only 45 pounds, at least 10 pounds below average. Examinations of his two siblings found similar injuries and malnourishment. One had developed a bone infection after his toe was bitten.
Neighbors said the Archuletas' behavior had been unusual since they moved there in 2006.
“It's sickening to me that we lived here this long and never knew,” one neighbor said.Tim, Iliana and Rogelio moved into the home, neighbors said, when the couple's biological daughter was 7 and Iliana was pregnant with her now 6-year-old son.
On a block where children play in the streets, neighbors know each other and wave at passing cars, several said the Archuletas were secretive.
For instance, they were careful to pull the van into the garage and shut the door before allowing the children to get out, neighbors recalled. The family rarely opened their front door for anyone but traveling Mormon missionaries.
“The kids were always in baggy clothes, so we couldn't tell if they were too skinny,” said a neighbor and mother. “And I always felt so bad in the winter because I never saw them with a coat.”
Another neighbor recalled an instance about a year ago when, in a rare sighting, Rogelio was walking along the street with all three adopted children.
“He saw the CPS car turn down the street and he grabbed the kids and ran inside,” he said. “She knocked and knocked and knocked, but they never came to the door.”
Around that same time, several neighbors said CPS and Bexar County Sheriff's Office investigators knocked on their doors, saying the children had missed two weeks of school and asking if they had seen anything unusual.
Walker said the three adopted children, who are not related to the Archuletas, now are in CPS' care. The couple's two biological children, who investigators said don't appear to be abused, are now in a “safety plan” with family or friends, she said.
The adopted children originally were removed from their biological parents by the state because of abuse and neglect, Walker said.
Those who would adopt such children go through an involved vetting process, including criminal and CPS background checks, home studies, personal references and special training, according to a Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services website.
Annette Rodriguez, executive director of the Children's Shelter, said the children already had been placed with the family by another adoption agency when they showed up for services in April 2009.
When staffers noticed one child was regularly missing school, they called CPS. According to her records, that was the only concern the agency had about the family.
Soon after the investigation ended, in October 2009, the family switched to World For Children, another agency that contracts with TDFPS to provide care to foster and adopted children who have been abused and neglected.
Region Director Marni Morgan said her agency worked with the three children and the adoptive parents until February 2011, when the children were formally adopted. She couldn't comment on the types of services they received for privacy reasons, she said.
The 10-year-old girl told investigators that while at the day care center, her brothers usually were locked in the office. She would help at the center by cleaning, but was locked in the office as well if she misbehaved, she said.
When asked by an interviewer if they were allowed out to use the bathroom, she replied they were forced to go in their pull-up diapers. She and a brother were wearing the diapers when they were transported to the hospital last week.
On Thursday at the day care center, a yellow piece of paper was taped to a front window with a note that read, “Please Support the Honey Tree,” underneath which was listed a phone number, which connects the caller to a state child care licensing office.
Walker said that by late Thursday afternoon, staffers had received no calls.