The parents of a 10-year-old Arizona girl have been charged with murder after the girl’s remains were found in an attic after a house fire last year — three years after the girl disappeared.
Maribel Loera, 51, and Rafael Loera, 57, were already in jail on charges of arson, child abuse, abandoning or concealing a dead body, and endangerment, stemming from an investigation that began on January 20, 2020, when an 11-year-old girl called police and said she’d been left in her Phoenix home alone for two days and was hungry, ABC15 reported.
Authorities said the girl reported that she’d been neglected and abused by the Loeras, who were her adoptive parents, and that Maribel Loera was in Minnesota with two siblings, a 4-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl.
The girl told investigators that Maribel struck her with knotted extension cords, and officials said she had injuries that were consistent with being struck by a “rope like object.” She also told officials she had an older sister who vanished in 2017. She said that Maribel told her the girl was adopted and sent to Columbia, but Rafael said she was sent to Mexico.
Phoenix police officers who responded to the call said the home was in “disarray” and that there was feces on the floor. The Arizona Department of Child Safety took the girl into their custody that evening.
A week later, DCS returned and removed the other two children, ABC15 said. Shortly after DCS left with the children, emergency dispatchers received a call about a fire at the same home.
Fire crews tried to ventilate the structure by pulling down drywall and ventilation.
“As they did so, they immediately stopped and observed what they perceived to be human bones which came from the ceiling, resting on top of the attic insulation,” police paperwork filed at the time said.
Police later discovered that the remains belonged to the missing older sister, 13-year-old Ana Loera, also adopted by the Loeras. The medical examiner determined her death to be a homicide.
At police headquarters, Rafael Loera told detectives that his wife abused the 11- and 9-year-old children and that he hadn’t reported it because he feared police would hurt him. He said that his wife also abused him, and that the 11-year-old was left home alone because he worked two jobs to support the family.
Rafael initially repeated the story that the missing girl had gone to Mexico when asked, but later admitted she had gotten sick in the summer of 2017. He said they waited several days before deciding to take her to the hospital, but she died on the way.
He said the couple didn’t report the death for fear the other children would be taken away, and he said Maribel abused the older girl as well and that her remains would “probably” show injuries.
On January 28, after the two younger children were taken from the home, Rafael said he felt “hopeless” and took Ana’s body from the attic where they’d kept it, poured gasoline around the fireplace, and tried to burn the house down.
A police report said that the 11-year-old had “numerous abrasions, scars, healed burn scars, injuries to her back, buttocks, abdomen and chin,” and that the boy had injuries in various stages of healing over his entire body. He also had cuts and abrasions on his face and “loop marks on his legs, injuries too numerous to count,” according to CBS5.
The Phoenix Police Department announced the new first degree murder charges against the couple on Friday, saying they’d developed enough probable cause for the charges, according to ABC15.