FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – State child welfare officials said Tuesday they never contacted police after receiving an abuse allegation that 10-year-old twins were being tied up and locked in the bathroom of a Florida home. The girl's body was later found in her adoptive father's truck beside the road.
The official account differs from the initial one provided by the Department of Children and Families — that the agency notified police four days after the alleged abuse was reported on a Feb. 10 call to a state hotline.
Child welfare investigators searched for the twin boy and girl for four days, repeatedly stopping by the family's home, visiting the school and calling the father on his cell phone, officials said. But they said Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who adopted the children out of foster care, gave investigators the run-around, each one saying the twins were with the other parent. Child investigators never saw the twins.
The Department of Children and Families last week detailed their attempts to search for the children after a judge criticized their hasty investigation. DCF regional director Jacqui Colyer said they called police Monday, four days after a report came to the hotline.
On Feb. 14 "we begin to realize that something is amiss and we immediately begin to put out all kinds of alerts to the police," Colyer said last week.
When asked by The Associated Press for records of the agency's contact with police, DCF officials said Tuesday they were mistaken about notifying police. West Palm Beach Police first contacted child-welfare investigators on Feb. 14 after finding the twin boy, coated in a toxic chemical with critical burns, in the front seat of his father's truck. Only then did DCF call authorities in Miami, where the family lives, agency spokesman Mark Riordan acknowledged.
The boy's sister, Nubia Docter, was found dead, wrapped in plastic bags in the back of her father's exterminator truck parked alongside Interstate 95. Jorge Barahona was nearby on the ground, unresponsive and doused in gasoline after what police say he told them was a failed suicide.
The case has reignited criticism of the state Department of Children and Families, an agency that overhauled its system a decade ago after a foster child went missing for more than a year before anyone realized it.
Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins has called for an outside review of the case. He acknowledged last week that the agency's handling of the abuse allegation had raised questions.
"Should we have called the police because we went to the house and the mom's story was sort of odd and obviously the dad was gone. Should she have called police right then and there? That's something we have to look at," Wilkins told The Associated Press on Friday.
Jorge Barahona has pleaded not guilty to attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse for allegedly pouring chemicals on his son. On Tuesday, his wife's attorney said she plans to file for divorce. DCF officials said they expect charges will also be filed against Carmen Barahona.
Meanwhile, young Victor remains hospitalized with severe burns. A biological aunt and uncle from Texas are seeking custody.
The couple, who have not been identified, tried desperately to adopt the twins in 2005 before the Barahonas were granted full custody. He is a teacher and she is a stay-at-home mom. They have been married for 26 years with three grown children, a large home and a lot of support from the twins' extended family, according to documents released Tuesday.
"The kids need love. We have plenty to give them," their uncle said in one application at the time.
The couple flew to Florida to plead with a judge and wrote dozens of letters seeking custody of the children. The couple were approved by Florida to "obtain legal custody of the children" and both sides were told to emotionally prepare the children for a move to Texas, according to a letter the couple wrote the judge in 2005.
"We highly appreciate the love that (the Barahonas) have shown for the kids, but our bond with them are both blood and emotional bonds which are way deeper and stronger than any emotional bond," the letter said.
But welfare workers felt the children had already bonded with the Barahonas and didn't want to remove them. A judge ultimately agreed.
The couple's attorney, Steven Grossbard, said in court last week that his clients had raised "red flags" about the Barahonas years earlier. He didn't elaborate and said Tuesday the couple did not want to be interviewed.