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How many times was DCS in that house of horrors in west Phoenix?


Opinion: One child dead in the attic and two with injuries 'too numerous to count.' DCS needs to explain its involvement with the Loera family.

LAURIE ROBERTS   | Arizona Republic

A house of horrors.

There’s no other way to describe the house on West Wolf Street, where it was left finally to an 11-year-old girl to beg for rescue.

For herself, for her 9-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister. And, unknowingly, for an older girl whose body was wrapped in a sheet and left in the attic.

For two years.

So many questions here, starting with just this one:

Where was the Arizona Department of Child Safety?

Adopted daughter disappeared in 2017

The secrets began oozing out of this horror house on Jan. 20, when the 11-year-old called 911, saying she was hungry and had been alone for two days. Phoenix police say the girl was living in squalor, with human feces smeared on the floors and signs of abuse etched onto her body.

As is far too often the case, home sweet home wasn’t so sweet.

The child told police that Maribel Loera, who she described as her foster mother, would often hit her with a knotted extension cord.

“She explained Maribel had a bad temper and would strike her with miscellaneous objects while physically slamming her head into walls,” police wrote in court documents released on Monday.

DCS took the child into custody and eight days later, came back for her younger siblings, who by then had returned to the west Phoenix home along with the mother, Maribel, and father, Rafael Loera.

Within 30 minutes of DCS taking the two younger children, police say Rafael set fire to the house. Firefighters, while pulling down dry wall, found the bones of another child – one who police say had been adopted by the couple but not seen since 2017.

Had she survived, she would have been 13 years old.

Other children were repeatedly injured

Rafael told police he witnessed his wife beating the 11- and 9-year-old children with an electrical cord and broom handle but claimed he couldn’t do anything about it.

“He, too, reported being assaulted by Maribel with a broom handle; specifically when he tried defending the children,” police wrote.

A paragon of parenthood, Rafael.

Police say he also admitted that he knew in 2017 that his then-11-year-old adopted daughter was ill, throwing up and convulsing in seizures. But days passed before he finally decided to take her to the hospital. She died en route.

“Fearing the other children would be taken away, Rafael returned home with the deceased child,” police wrote. 

Court documents say the couple stashed the child's body in the attic then adopted a baby girl a few months later. Rafael told police a forensic autopsy would “probably” show injuries to the deceased child.

Speaking of injuries, the 11- and 9-year-old had an assortment of them all over their bodies, both healed and healing – enough to make you lose your lunch and your temper and possibly your patience with a child welfare system that didn’t seem to work.

Not for these children anyway.

DCS had to be involved at some point

So back to the question:

Where was DCS?

The agency, in its usual fashion, says a whole lot of nothing in its prepared statement.

“DCS can confirm that we removed the first child from a home near 59th Avenue and Camelback on January 20, 2020 after Phoenix Police Department discovered her alone on a welfare check,” it says. “After removal of the first child, DCS learned of additional children that were not present in the home on January 20th, and our investigation continued.”

If DCS had had no previous involvement with this family, you can bet that statement would have said so. PROBABLY IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

But then, the child who called 911 identified Maribel as her foster mother and police say at least two of these children – the deceased child and the baby – were adopted.

All that adds up to DCS involvement at some point.

What? Did no one notice a child was missing for two years?

We need a full accounting, and soon

An agency spokesman told 3TV: “The department was not visiting this family as there were no foster children living in the home at the time of the incident, nor were there any open investigations prior to January 20, 2020."

There’s enough wiggle room in that statement for an agency to hide, as this agency has hidden for years – regardless of legislative efforts to force transparency.

It shouldn’t be allowed to wiggle into the shadows on this one. Not this time. Not with a dead kid in the attic and two more with cuts and scars and burns and abrasions "too numerous to count."

DCS needs to give a full accounting of what it did – and didn’t do – to protect these kids.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com.

2020 Feb 4