MIAMI – A 10-year-old Florida girl and her twin brother sometimes spent days at a time locked in a bathroom, their hands and feet bound, enduring their parents' abuse before the girl's father punched and beat her to death, police said Monday.
Her death came the day after an investigator with the Florida Department of Children and Families visited the home and concluded that the children were not in immediate danger, even though she didn't know where they were.
Authorities charged the girl's parents with her death, the culmination of what they called months of abuse and torture. Police said Jorge Barahona ended that on Feb. 11 when he grabbed Nubia from the bathroom and beat her "while she screamed and cried until she was dead." His wife, Carmen, is accused of encouraging her husband's abuse and abusing the children herself, according to the arrest warrant.
Both have been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect in the girl's death. Her decomposing body was found on Valentine's Day, stuffed in plastic bags in the back of her father's truck along a busy Interstate. Her brother, Victor, was found in the front of the truck, badly burned from a toxic chemical.
"Two people engaged in this subhuman abuse that culminated in the death of their own child," Miami-Dade Police director James Loftus said. "It's one of the saddest commentaries on the human condition I've ever seen."
A child protective investigator visited the home on Feb. 10, one day before Nubia's death, after the state received a call to its abuse hotline. But Carmen Barahona said that the couple had separated and that the twins were with her husband. She has since admitted lying, police said.
According to a safety questionnaire, state DCF investigator Andrea Fleary marked a box indicating "there are no children likely to be in immediate danger or serious harm," even though she had no contact with the twins and didn't know where they were.
Still, when asked whether the children's whereabouts were unknown, she marked 'no'.
Fleary has been placed on administrative leave and has declined comment. Her personnel file show she had been disciplined several times in the past few years for putting children at risk and was on a "performance improvement plan."
Roberto Martinez, a former attorney who is investigating Nubia's death as part of a three-person panel, asked why Fleary had not been fired.
"Everyone deserves due process but that doesn't mean you keep an incompetent person around to do something that's so critical," Martinez said.
One day after Fleary's investigation, police said Nubia was beaten to death. Police called her brother, who is now living in a specialized foster home, a hero and key witness.
The boy told authorities he and his sister were locked in the bathroom when Jorge Barahona grabbed Nubia on Feb. 11. He said he heard the screams before her death. He didn't see his sister again after that, according to the warrant.
Victor's lip had also split open in the weeks before his sister's death and the Barahonas refused to take him to see a doctor, authorities said. The boy was born with a cleft palate.
Two days before the twins were found in their father's truck, a worried man called the state's abuse hotline saying something was wrong.
"My sister had questioned (Jorge) about the little girl and he doesn't come with a straight answer which is worrying me so much that something might have happened to that little girl," the unidentified caller said, according to a transcript of the call.
That caller also contacted Miami-Dade Police, but was given a case card and told to contact the Department of Children and Families.
Loftus, the police director, said ideally it's something "we would have investigated immediately." He said they are reviewing the process.
Jorge Barahona has pleaded not guilty to attempted first-degree murder in Victor's case. His attorney declined comment Monday. Carmen Barahona's attorney also declined comment Monday.
Officials called it a case that cried out for the death penalty.
A panel is investigating how child welfare officials missed glaring warnings in the case, including several abuse allegations in the years before Nubia's death.
School officials warned Nubia was afraid of her mother and was hoarding food at school. One teacher said Nubia confessed that Carmen hit her, but each abuse allegation was deemed "unfounded" by child welfare officials.
Child welfare officials acknowledged mistakes, but said the Barahonas deceived many who were working with the family.
"These people are sociopaths," child welfare attorney Esther Jacobo said Monday. She questioned what safeguards could have prevented the Barahonas from fooling officials only to "get us out of their life in a particular period of time so they can do whatever they are going to do."
Fellow foster parent Trudy Petkovich said she spent lots of time in the couple's home.
"They were committed to the children," she said. "I saw no signs that anything would happen to these children in the home ... so where this came from obviously I don't know."
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