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'I don't know what she grew up to be.' Family holds vigil for child whose remains were found


PERRY VANDELL   | Arizona Republic

About 50 people gathered outside a Phoenix home on Sunday afternoon where a child's remains were discovered shortly after three other children were removed by the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

The group joined hands in prayer as members called for reforms at DCS, such as improved oversight of adoptive parents.

DCS removed three children from the home of Rafael Loera, 56, and Maribel Loera, 50, on suspicion of child abuse in January. Phoenix police arrested the couple after firefighters noticed human remains hidden within drywall after they extinguished a fire at their west Phoenix home on Jan. 28.

Investigators later determined the remains belonged to a child, and Rafael told police it was a girl who they had adopted and who died when she was 11 in 2017. 

Priscilla Marquez, a woman claiming to be the biological mother of the 11-year-old girl, Angelina, the 9-year-old boy, Joseph, and the child whose remains were found, said the remains belong to her daughter, Charisma Marquez, who would be 13 years old if she were still alive.

The Arizona Republic has not been able to independently verify Marquez's claims as she lost her children's birth certificates, while DCS hasn't released records on the deceased child, citing state law.

Marquez, however has spoken to numerous media outlets and provided numerous pictures of her children.   

Marquez fought through tears outside the Loera's home as she lamented how she would never get to meet her daughter when she was an adult. 

"It hurts me," Marquez said. "Because I never got to see her from when she was a little girl. I never got to see her grow up. I didn't get to see — learn her favorite color. Learn what her favorite food is. Learn what her favorite movie is."

Marquez said she's asking schools and neighbors for any pictures they might have of Charisma.

"So I could be able to see the last picture of her before she went away," Marquez said. "I don't know what she grew up to be. I just see her as my little girl and I'm always going to see her as my little girl." 

Marquez demanded that DCS perform random check-ins on adoptive parents and ensure children attend school and have medical check-ups.

"Just because they're adopted and they're handed over, don't stop there," Marquez said. "Keep on checking up on them."

Marquez admitted she was struggling with a methamphetamine addiction when her children were removed, but claims she never abused her children and always ensured they had enough food to eat and clothes to wear.  

"We had an active family," Marquez said. "We did. I didn't abuse (my children). They didn't get taken from me because I beat them or because of unsanitary housing. No. They got taken away from me because I had a drug problem."

Christina Lawler attended the vigil to support Marquez and her family after reading the news reports. Lawler said DCS took custody of her children in 2018.

"Going through what I went through, I decided to come and show support and let them know they're not alone," Lawler said. "'Cause she may have thought this was an isolated incident — like her kids being taken — but it happens every single day to innocent parents."

Lawler didn't disclose why DCS had removed her children, saying she was afraid giving specific details about her case would hinder her ability to regain custody, but wanted to support Marquez and call for changes at DCS to better protect children under its watch.

DCS issued a written statement last week explaining it couldn't release additional information about the deceased child under state law.

"All of us at DCS are heartbroken about this incident," DCS spokesman Darren DaRonco said in a written statement. "While this is an ongoing investigation and we are unable to release all of the facts at this time, we grieve for the child whose remains were recently found."

Prosecutors initially charged Rafael and Maribel Loera with two counts of child abuse and two counts of concealing a dead body. Rafael was also charged with arson after he told police he set his house on fire to kill himself. 

The couple were each indicted with two additional counts of child abuse, according to court records made public on Feb. 7. 

Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said prosecutors would review whether to file additional charges once the child's death is determined by the Maricopa Medical Examiner. 

Reach the reporter Perry Vandell at 602-444-2474 or perry.vandell@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @PerryVandell.

2020 Feb 10