AP NEWS

More abuse charges against couple accused of concealing body

February 7, 2020 GMT
1 of 4
This undated booking photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office shows 56-year-old Rafael Loera. Loera and his wife, 50-year-old Maribel Loera, are accused of intentionally setting their west Phoenix home ablaze after their children were taken by the state, leading firefighters to find unidentified skeletal remains. They have been booked on suspicion of arson, child abuse and concealment of a dead body. Authorities haven't determined whether the remains belong to a child or adult. (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office via AP)
1 of 4
This undated booking photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office shows 56-year-old Rafael Loera. Loera and his wife, 50-year-old Maribel Loera, are accused of intentionally setting their west Phoenix home ablaze after their children were taken by the state, leading firefighters to find unidentified skeletal remains. They have been booked on suspicion of arson, child abuse and concealment of a dead body. Authorities haven't determined whether the remains belong to a child or adult. (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office via AP)

PHOENIX (AP) — A Phoenix couple charged with child abuse and concealing skeletal remains at their home two years after their daughter was last seen alive has been indicted on additional charges.

The indictment that became public Friday adds two child abuse charges each against Rafael Loera and Maribel Loera.

Rafael Loera told police that their 11-year-old daughter Ana became ill in July 2017 and that he waited several days before trying to seek medical attention. He said she died on the way to the hospital and that the death wasn’t reported out of fear that their other adopted children would be taken away by the state, according to court records. The couple hasn’t been charged in the death of Ana.

Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors will decide whether to file additional charges once the child’s cause of death has been determined. Police said the remains haven’t yet been identified.

Court records didn’t list attorneys who are representing the Loeras and could speak on their behalf. The couple remains jailed.

The remains were discovered on Jan. 28 after neighbors reported a fire at the west Phoenix home.

When working on ventilation at the home, firefighters discovered human remains atop attic insulation. Rafael Loera also told investigators that he moved remains into the backyard, siphoned gasoline from his van and set the house on fire because he was feeling hopeless and suicidal, according to court records.

The investigation began after another daughter — an 11-year-old — called police on Jan 20 to report that she had been left alone for two days and was hungry and afraid. The girl, who said Maribel Loera struck her on multiple occasions with knotted extension cords and slammed her head into walls, was removed from the home, but there were no other children there at the time.

Eight days later, investigators from the Arizona Department of Child Safety removed a 9-year-old boy and 4-year old girl from the home. Shortly after the visit, the fire was reported.

Police say Rafael Loera claimed his wife physically abused the kids and that he didn’t report those crimes out of fear that she would hurt him.

Investigators seized lime during a search of the home, according to court records. Police declined to say whether they believed the lime was intended to be used for decomposing the remains.

It’s unclear how more than two years passed without anyone outside the immediate family knowing that Ana was missing.

Ana attended kindergarten through third grade at two elementary schools near the home in the Cartwright School District and was last seen May 2016 on the last day of the school. After that, “she simply never returned,” said district spokeswoman Veronica Sanchez.

Phoenix police and the Arizona Department of Child Safety declined to say whether Ana was enrolled at any schools in Arizona from May 2016 until the time she vanished.

The child welfare agency said it couldn’t currently release all the facts of the case, citing confidentiality laws.

Police said in court records that the couple adopted an infant girl in the months after Ana died. But the Department of Child Safety, said the adoption in question was finalized in 2016 before Ana is believed to have died. Phoenix police declined a request to clarify the apparent conflict.

The child welfare agency said it didn’t receive any reports on Rafael and Maribel Loera from their final adoption in 2016 until the Jan. 20 call from the 11-year-old.

“How did they not realize that a little girl was missing?” asked Priscilla Ann Marquez, the birth mother of Ana and two other children who were adopted by the Loera family.

Marquez, who lost custody of her children because of a drug addiction, said she last saw Ana, whose birth name was Charisma, in 2012. Marquez said she has been sober for several years and hopes that the children will want some sort of relationship with her when they reach adulthood. She said she didn’t know Rafael and Maribel Loera.

___

Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.