MILWAUKEE – A Wisconsin mom accused of locking three of her small children in a bedroom and leaving them unattended hours before they died in a fire had twice been warned by authorities not to leave them alone, according to court documents.
Angelica D. Belen, 24, made an initial court appearance Wednesday on three felony charges of child neglect resulting in death. A Milwaukee County court commissioner imposed a cash bond of $500,000.
Her 5-year-old daughter, Nayeli Colon, and 4-year-old twin sons, Adrian and Alexis Colon, died in a fire Thursday at their West Allis home. Belen told investigators she left the kids alone to start a new job and that she bolted their bedroom door shut because she didn't want them wrecking the house or getting outside where neighbors could see they were unattended.
She said she knew she wasn't supposed to leave the kids alone but she needed to go to work and couldn't find a babysitter, the criminal complaint said.
Belen's public defender, Reyna Morales, declined to comment on the case.
Prosecutors say Belen was first warned on Feb. 26, when a child-welfare worker was driving to Belen's home for a scheduled visit. The worker spotted Belen driving directly in front of her. The worker watched Belen and Nayeli get out of the car, and all three walked inside to find Adrian and Alexis crying and Belen's 1-year-old son in a high chair.
"There was a decision made to allow the defendant to keep her children in the house, but she was told not to leave them alone," the complaint said.
The child-welfare worker, identified as Jami Katarincic of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, declined to comment Wednesday to The Associated Press.
The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare referred calls to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, which released a statement saying confidentiality issues prevented it from confirming or denying that the children were known to the child-welfare system.
"An official assessment of this case is ongoing and the Department does not have any further comment at this time," the statement said.
The second time Belen was warned about leaving her children unattended was on March 13, when she went to a store with Nayeli and left her twin sons and 1-year-old Wilfredo Belen alone in the car. A witness told investigators the twins got out of the car and started running around, and one was almost hit by a car. A second witness saw a car door open and the 1-year-old crying inside.
A responding officer said the twins were dirty and smelled of feces.
The children again were allowed to stay with their mother. She was given another warning not to leave them alone, the complaint said.
Based on the two incidents, Belen was charged last month with six counts of misdemeanor child neglect. The charges carry a maximum combined penalty of 4½ years in prison and a $60,000 fine.
Authorities say Thursday's fire began when a faulty electrical connection ignited in the kitchen. The three charges of child neglect resulting in death are felonies, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of 25 years.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.