PHOENIX — A Phoenix couple arrested last week on child abuse charges are accused of keeping the decomposing body of their adopted 11-year-old daughter in the attic of their home for more than two years.
Rafael Loera, 56, is charged with arson, as well as concealment of a body and multiple counts of child abuse, according to court records and the Phoenix Police Department. Maribel Loera, 50, faces charges of child abuse and concealment of a body.
The body is that of Ana Loera, also known as Charisma Marquez, according to what Rafael Loera told police. CBS 5 in Phoenix reported that the medical examiner is working to positively identify the child and determine her cause of death.
Police officials said that officers first went to the Loera home Jan. 20 after a different 11-year-old girl, identified by The Arizona Republic as the couple’s foster daughter, called 911 and reported that she was home alone and scared. Her parents and siblings were apparently out of town.
“She had been alone for two days and was hungry,” Phoenix police Sgt. Maggie Cox told CBS 5.
Court documents obtained by the news station and the Republic indicate the officers found the home filthy, “with what appeared to be human feces throughout the residence on the floors.” The girl also had “numerous abrasions, scars, healed burn scars, injuries to her back, buttocks, abdomen and chin.”
After the officers discovered evidence of abuse, the girl was removed by the Arizona Department of Child Safety, according to police officials. When detectives questioned her further, the child said Maribel Loera was physically abusive.
The girl said she was “struck on multiple occasions with knotted extension cords,” and that “Maribel had a bad temper and would strike her with miscellaneous objects while physically slamming her head into walls.” According to court documents, her injuries were consistent with her statements.
The girl also told police she had an older sister who had vanished about two years ago, the documents allege. She told investigators Maribel Loera told her “her sister was adopted and sent to Colombia,” CBS 5 reported.
Her father told her “her sister was adopted and sent to Mexico,” the court documents say.
DCS caseworkers learned the girl’s younger siblings were in the Loera home on Jan. 28 and returned, removing two additional children, ages 9 and 4, Cox said. While court records did not indicate if the 4-year-old girl had visible injuries, the 9-year-old boy reportedly had injuries “too numerous to count” covering his entire body.
The Republic reported that it was not yet clear if the two younger children are adopted or are foster children.
According to CBS 5, Maribel Loera would not come out of the home to speak to the caseworker. Rafael Loera handed over the children in the front yard.
An hour later, the family’s home was on fire.
Firefighters found Rafael Loera in the driveway, where he told them the couple had started a fire in the fireplace that went out of control but said the fire had been put out. The news station reported, however, that firefighters could see smoke still billowing from the attic vents.
They found Maribel Loera inside with a garden hose and a fire that began not in the fireplace, but in a corner of the living room floor, court records show.
Rafael Loera admitted that he siphoned gasoline from his car and used it to start the fire “because he did not want to live anymore,” CBS 5 reported. Both he and his wife were taken into custody.
Firefighters working the fire stumbled upon the dead girl’s bones after pulling drywall and insulation from the ceiling to create ventilation, the news station said.
“They immediately stopped and observed what they perceived to be human bones which came from the ceiling, resting on top of attic insulation,” the court records say.
The medical examiner confirmed the bones were human and that of a child.
Court records obtained by the CBS affiliate paint a grim picture of what took place in the Loera home. The documents allege that Rafael Loera told police Maribel Loera was abusive to their children, hitting them with an electrical cord and a broom handle.
He said he never called police because he was “afraid Maribel would hurt him,” the documents say. According to the Republic, he said his wife hit him with the broom handle if he tried to defend the children.
The family had recently gone to Minnesota, but Rafael Loera told police he and the 11-year-old returned to Arizona. Rafael Loera claimed “he was trying to protect the 11-year-old from his wife but could not afford to stay home with her,” so he “continued to work his two jobs and leave her alone for the majority of the day.”
Those jobs included a job at a local high school. A spokesperson with the Tolleson Union High School District confirmed to the Republic that Rafael Loera is employed as a teacher’s aide at Sierra Linda High School in Phoenix.
Rafael Loera told detectives his wife and the two younger children returned home a few days after DCS caseworkers removed the older girl from the home, the newspaper reported.
Detectives asked Rafael Loera about an older child, who would be 13 years old now. He initially lied and said the girl moved to Mexico, but he later admitted the girl, Ana Loera, was dead, CBS 5 reported.
Rafael Loera claimed that Ana became sick in July 2017 while on summer break. He said he and his wife waited several days before seeking medical treatment, but that when they did, Ana died on the way to the hospital.
He said “the child had been throwing up in the days leading to her death and had what he described as convulsions before passing away,” the court documents say.
“Fearing the other children would be taken away, Rafael returned home with (Ana’s body),” the court records say, according to CBS 5. “Neither he nor Maribel contacted authorities to report her death. The child was wrapped in a sheet and placed in the attic.
“The body of the deceased child continued to lay there while the family lived in the residence for another two years.”
Rafael Loera claimed he removed his daughter’s remains from the attic and lay them in the backyard before setting the house on fire, the news station reported. That claim contradicted where firefighters said they found the bones.
The news station reported that court records show Rafael Loera “acknowledged his wife was abusing (Ana) during the time of her death, she was the primary caregiver while he was at work and a forensic autopsy of the bones would ‘probably’ show injuries.”
He said the couple adopted their youngest daughter as an infant in the months after Ana died, CBS 5 reported.
“As you can imagine, this is a very complex investigation,” Cox said outside the family’s home a day after the arrests. “But it’s important to know the children are safe.”
Watch Cox speak about the case below.
Both Rafael and Maribel Loera appeared in court for the first time Wednesday. During their hearing, prosecutors said the parents were threats to the safety of their remaining children, CBS 5 reported.
Prosecutors told the judge they fear the couple are a potential flight risk. At the time of their arrest, Maribel Loera had $4,800 in cash in her purse. The family’s passports were next to her purse on the couple’s bed, the news station said.
Rafael told the court, in Spanish, that they were not planning to flee.
“We always carry them with us and that’s why we have them, because of that,” he said, according to the news station.
Maribel Loera was ordered held on a $350,000 cash-only bond. Rafael Loera was ordered held on a $100,000 cash-only bond.
If they are released, they are to wear electronic ankle monitors, CBS 5 said. They also cannot have contact with their children, each other, arresting officers or other minors.