ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s child welfare agency had an Albuquerque family on its radar because of child abuse allegations before a 9-year-old boy was found dead at their home Friday, investigators say.
Police said the boy had suffered multiple current and past injuries, including cigarette burns to his body, The Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1dhYuQA).
The boy’s mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus, 38, is facing child abuse charges in his death.
A criminal complaint filed against Varela-Casaus says she initially didn’t ask about her son’s condition or seem upset during a police interview but she eventually said she kicked the boy in the stomach and he fell, hitting his head on the dresser and then again on the floor. The complaint said she then kicked him at least two more times while he was on the ground.
“I was disciplining him and I kicked him the wrong way; it was an accident,” she said as she was led by police into the Prisoner Transport Center on Saturday. “I messed up.”
Varela-Casaus called 911 Friday evening, telling arriving officers her son had fallen off a bouncing toy horse and hit his head, court documents and police said. But officers were suspicious because the boy was cold to the touch, Albuquerque police spokesman Simon Drobik said.
“When officers arrived on scene, he was already cold to the touch, so they knew it hadn’t happened when (Varela-Casaus) said it had,” Drobik said.
Medical professionals cited in the criminal complaint said the child’s current and past injuries were extensive.
Cigarette burns were found on the boy’s chest, upper lip and back; a bite mark was found on his left arm; and he was bruised above his genitals and on his back, according to the complaint.
Drobik said the family had been on the state Children, Youth and Family Department’s radar for a long time and, according to the complaint, the boy had complained of abuse in the past.
Henry Varela, a spokesman for the child welfare agency who has no relation to the family, said the agency couldn’t comment on current or previous cases, including the Varela-Casaus case. But Varela said, in general, the department can only take custody of children when ordered by law enforcement or through the courts.
“We’re currently investigating. It’s really sad what happened,” Varela said. “In the general situation where there would be an allegation of abuse, whether it’s coming from a child or not, CYFD is always going to do a thorough investigation on any allegation of abuse. But CYFD does not have the authority to just go in and take custody of a child.”
According to the complaint, Varela-Casaus’ husband told police he had been on scene 30 minutes before 911 was called. He said he heard Varela-Casaus strike the boy repeatedly and said she told him that she “only hit him as she normally does, but she may have hit him too hard ‘this time.'”
Varela-Casaus’ husband is under investigation by police, Drobik said.