When firefighters responded to a report of a house fire in Phoenix, a man at the residence insisted that the flames were contained to the fireplace and that their assistance wasn’t needed. The first responders ignored his claims and entered the home in order to save the structure.
Once the flames had been extinguished, however, the crews made a grim discovery: the skeletal remains of a little girl who had not been heard from since 2017.
Three other children had been recently removed from the home, only adding to the disturbing details of the ongoing investigation.
Breaking: Human skeletal remains found inside a home after a fire yesterday near 59th Ave & Camelback. Homicide investigators at the scene. PIO on scene with media update in the next hour. pic.twitter.com/9Kr7nhPPOR
— Phoenix Police Department (@phoenixpolice) January 29, 2020
A week before the fire, Phoenix Police officers received a call from the home from 11-year-old girl who told them she was left alone for two days and was hungry. After responding officers “discovered what appeared to be human feces throughout the residence on the floors” and evidence of child abuse, she was removed from the home.
She was the only child home at the time, according to the police.
Just an hour before the fire was reported by neighbors on Jan. 28, however, the Arizona Department of Child Safety removed two more children, ages 4 and 9, from the home after suspecting child abuse.
The children’s parents, Rafael Loera, 56, and Maribel Loera, 50, are being held on a $200,000 cash bond each and are both facing charges of child abuse and abandonment or concealment of a body, according to NBC News.
Rafael Loera, the man who attempted to turn firefighters away, is also facing arson charges.
The skeletal remains are allegedly those of an 11-year-old girl the couple adopted who died in July 2017, according to KNPX.
Rafael Loera originally told authorities that the young girl had moved back to Mexico, but he eventually revealed that she had fallen ill in 2017 and that he and Maribel waited days before they tried to seek medical treatment.
She allegedly died on the way to the hospital.
Rather than reporting her death, Rafael Loera said they wrapped her up in a sheet and placed her in the attic for fear of losing custody of their other children.
The couple adopted an infant a few months after the girl’s death and kept the 10-year-old’s body in the attic for over two years.
The 11-year-old girl removed by DPS agents a week before the fire told authorities that Maribel Loera had a terrible temper and that she would often beat her and the 9-year-old child with an electrical cord.
Authorities discovered injuries consistent with the young girl’s claims. The girl also told authorities she had an older sister who disappeared two years ago, and that Rafael and Maribel Loera told her separately that she had been adopted and sent to different countries.
Prosecutor Sarah Corcoran told NBC News that Rafael was allegedly aware of how Maribel treated the children, but did nothing to prevent it.
“He is alleged to have done nothing to prevent the abuse of the victims although he allegedly admitted that he knew that it was happening,” she said, “and he allegedly admitted that he left the victims in the care of the co-suspect knowing that the abuse was happening.”
On Jan. 28, shortly after the youngest two children were removed from his home, Rafael started the fire which ultimately revealed their dark secret.
He originally told firefighters that the fire in the fireplace had gotten out of control, but upon further inspection, crews determined the fire was in a different corner of the living room on the floor.
He later admitted he poured gasoline on the floor and started the fire because he no longer wanted to live.
Once firefighters extinguished the flames, they tried to ventilate the area by tearing down drywall and removing 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 said, according to KNXV.
Phoenix police Sgt. Maggie Cox said the investigation is still ongoing and that there are many aspects to wade through.
“As you can imagine, this is a very complex investigation. What’s important to know is that the three children are safe,” she said, according to NBC News.
“You can only imagine the amount, the layers of investigation that are going on. There are so many interviews that are being done, evidence that’s being processed.”
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