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Kids Exterminated

February 20, 2011 permalink

Nubia Doctor
Nubia Doctor
from blog

Last Monday, February 14, police found a pickup truck in Florida with a sick ten-year-old boy, Victor Doctor, and the body of his dead twin sister Nubia Doctor packed in a bag in the rear. Their adoptive father, professional exterminator Jorge Barahona, was unconscious nearby. The boy was hospitalized and owing to burns, possibly from Jorge's repertoire of pesticides, continued to deteriorate.

According to other news reports, the twins had blood relatives willing to adopt them, but the state of Florida instead went ahead with what we call a low-bidder adoption. They were placed with the Barahonas in 2004 as foster children and the fosters applied for adoption, which was granted in 2009. The Barahonas' bounty for the twins and two other children came to over $1000 per month.

When Paul Neumann, a volunteer guardian-ad-litem, opposed the adoption on grounds of abuse, the Barahonas complained to the governor:

In a series of three letters spanning the summer of 2007 through early 2008, the Barahonas accused Neumann of conspiring with employees of the Miami-Dade school system, “tampering’’ with witnesses and trying to snatch the twins from their custody. Neumann, they wrote, was violating their civil rights.

These accusations are true in thousands of other cases, so understandably, many believed they were true for the Barahonas as well. This case illustrates the importance of conducting child protection openly. That might embarrass workers into routinely telling the truth. Then no higher-ups would believe they were conspiring, tampering or violating parent's rights. The case also illustrates the dangers inherent in the low-bidder adoption system. There is too much danger that mercenary adopters will take in kids purely for cash, and cut their expenses by giving them no care at all.




Home where abused twins lived was a house of horrors

Jorge and Carmen Barahona had custody of fraternal twin foster children for three years and were moving slowly toward adoption when they hit a formidable obstacle: a stubborn court-appointed guardian.

Paul Neumann, a volunteer guardian-ad-litem, had seen something in the West Miami-Dade couple that scared him, and he said so to everyone in the child welfare system who would listen.

The Barahonas sought help from an administrator with the foster care agency that oversaw their case. And when that fell short, they prevailed to a higher authority: then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

In a series of three letters spanning the summer of 2007 through early 2008, the Barahonas accused Neumann of conspiring with employees of the Miami-Dade school system, “tampering’’ with witnesses and trying to snatch the twins from their custody. Neumann, they wrote, was violating their civil rights.

“They have been deceitful with us all along,” the Barahonas wrote in a June 4, 2007 letter to Crist, “and we feel that we have been taken for fools.”

Florida child welfare administrators now claim that they were the ones who were deceived.

On Feb. 10, the Department of Children & Families’ child abuse hotline received a report that the Barahonas were binding the twins, Nubia and Victor Doctor, hand-and-foot and forcing them to stand in a bathtub for hours at the family home in West Miami-Dade. Investigators had yet to find the twins when Victor was discovered in a pickup truck on the side of Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach doused in chemicals and in the midst of seizures. Hours later, police found Nubia’s body in the truck’s flatbed, stuffed in a bag and drenched in chemicals. A source said Friday the children may have been sprayed with pesticides.

DCF administrators have declined repeatedly to release records on the couple, though they say some documents may be forthcoming.

But several records obtained last week by The Miami Herald, along with interviews of neighbors and child welfare workers, paint a portrait of a couple determined to raise their adoptive family their own way, shielded from the prying eyes of child-welfare workers, in a house cloaked by thick, overgrown shrubs.

“All roads lead back to that house,” DCF’s top Miami administrator, Jacqui Colyer, said last week.


Jorge Barahona was born in Nicaragua; Carmen in Cuba.

They married on Jan. 19, 1996, in Coral Gables. She was 45; he was 38.

Carmen Barahona has worked for several years for one of South Florida’s largest medical practices, Pediatric Associates. Her husband owned a pest control company, and operated out of a red pickup truck that carried lethal chemical in plastic jugs.

The couple had another, rather substantial source of income: state subsidies for the four foster children they adopted. In court last week, Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman ordered that the roughly $950-per-month in adoption subsidies for the three surviving children be immediately discontinued. The amount likely reached $1,200 when Nubia was alive.

The Barahonas lived in a typical western Miami-Dade suburb, close to a hospital, a public school and filled with families whose children move easily between English and Spanish.

The Barahona home, a three-bedroom, one-bath, at first glance passes for the best-kept home on their suburban block, with a gleaming front driveway of fresh pavers, a coat of light-colored paint and a lawn full of lush landscaping. But look closer, and it resembles a well-manicured fortress, armed with heavy shrubbery to keep away glancing eyes and cameras that peered out at visitors, showing those inside whoever came near the front door.

A black metal gate, more than four feet tall, keeps passersby from setting foot on the front yard. Tall wooden planks on the side of the house, bearing Beware of Dog signs, obscure any view from the side. Palm trees and tall shrubs line the front of the house, obscuring the windows.

Thick shrubs grown so tall they brush against the roof guard each side of the front doors like centurions. The heavy tangles of branches and leaves on both sides of the front entrance mean that neighbors like Leida Alonso, who has lived next door for more than five years, can glance over and not even see if the door is open.

What went on in the house was a “family secret’’ that was never to be discussed, one of the Barahonas’ surviving adoptive children — as well as the couple’s biological granddaughter — told investigators in recent days.


In all her years in the neighborhood, Alonso said, she saw Jorge Barahona maybe five or seven times. She never saw anyone else at the house at all, she said.

“I never saw his wife, never saw a kid,” Alonso said

Across the street, Hilda Duque said in five years in the neighborhood she only saw children with the couple once. About six months ago, she saw two small children. She thinks they were coming or going to the beach because a little girl was wearing a bathing suit.

But Duque said she never even knew the family’s name. When Duque went outside to water her plants, she would occasionally see Carmen Barahona, but Barahona kept quiet. She guessed Carmen worked as a nurse, based only on seeing her from afar in what looked like a nurse’s uniform.

Even the letter carrier was kept at bay. The couple placed their mailbox at the front gate, so mail could be delivered without a person stepping on the lawn.

The Barahonas became licensed foster parents in 1999, and had adopted their first child, a boy, by 2001. By 2004, the Barahonas had custody of four foster children, including the twins.

Within the next three years, Florida’s child abuse hotline received three reports on Nubia — all of them initiated by someone at the girl’s school. Several school employees testified at the Barahonas’ adoption hearing that they had serious concerns about the couple’s custody of the kids.

Under Florida law, teachers and guidance counselors are defined as “mandatory reporters” of child abuse and neglect, and they can be prosecuted for failing to report their suspicions. State policy grants professionals such as teachers, coaches and therapists great deference when they report suspected abuse, and investigators are taught to assume such reports are credible.

The first report arrived in January 2005: “My father is touching me,” Nubia reportedly disclosed to someone at school. Child welfare supervisors could not determine whether Nubia was referring to her birth father, who had lost custody at least a year earlier, or Barahona, although they suspected the girl meant her birth dad. They took no action on the report, The Miami Herald was told.

A little more than a year later, in February 2006, DCF received a second report. Nubia, the hotline was told, had bruising on her chin and neck and her teachers suspected she had been abused. DCF ordered the Barahonas to take the girl to the Department of Health’s Child Protection Team in Miami, but the couple did not arrive for the appointment for a week, The Herald has learned. By then, the bruising had largely disappeared. The state doctors concluded the bruising was consistent with the Barahonas’ contention that Nubia had fallen, and that no abuse had occurred.


In March 2007, DCF received a third report, that Nubia was dirty and unkempt, constantly complained that she was hungry and smelled badly.

School workers filed a strikingly similar report to the hotline again in June 2010, noting that Nubia was so “uncontrollably” hungry that she was stealing food. The 2010 report also included this detail: Nubia was losing her hair, and had become “nervous” and “jittery.”

In comments to reporters Thursday, DCF Secretary David Wilkins — who did not address the 2007 and 2010 reports directly — said agency investigators’ efforts were critically hindered by the Barahonas’ insistence that what appeared to be poor hygiene was actually the effects of a medical condition that affected the girl’s endocrine system. “The medical condition,” Wilkins said, “complicated the decision-making of investigators.”

The contention, Wilkins said, was one of several ways in which the couple had misled investigators, perhaps for several years.

“It’s always hard to deal with deception,’’ Wilkins said. “There are some assumptions we made that, in hindsight, we would look at differently.”

Sources say DCF did not refer the family back to the Child Protection Team either in 2007 or in 2010 for an independent opinion on the girl’s condition.

It was in 2007, records suggest, when the volunteer guardian, Neumann, became extremely concerned for the twins.

Though Neumann could not be reached for comment, the letters written by the Barahonas in 2007 and 2008 say the guardian had discussed Nubia’s welfare several times with employees of the girl’s school, including an assistant principal.

The school, they said, gave Neumann “a room alone with the children for the entire lunch time,” and allowed the guardian to interview them. “When we picked up the children from school they told us everything.”


Neumann also interviewed relatives of the twins who lived in Texas. A lawyer for the children’s aunt and uncle appeared in court last week and confirmed that the couple had raised “red flags” about the Barahonas during their attempts to gain custody of the children from the Barahonas.

In the letters, the Barahonas repeatedly denied allegations that they were “dirty and uncaring parents.” Though “we put our trust in the courts and the DCF attorney,’’ the couple wrote, “we were humiliated in front of everybody’’ at a court hearing in the summer of 2007.

The Barahonas reserved a special contempt for “Mr. Paul [Neumann], the guardian-ad-litem, with whom we have had a personality conflict since the beginning because of his arrogance and smart remarks, and we put up with this.’’

A June 4, 2007 letter to Crist also suggests the couple had refused to allow Neumann access to the children — a theme that would repeat itself again and again in coming years, and, perhaps, end in tragic results last week.

“We were … told that this is not a game and that Mr. Neumann does this out of the goodness of his heart because he doesn’t get paid. I guess the court believes that we must be doing this for the money,” they wrote in an Aug. 5, 2007 letter to the governor.

“If we have done anything wrong,” the Barahonas wrote, “let us be held accountable for it.”

Source: Miami Herald

Addendum: After the twins were taken by force from their father, there were other relatives willing and able to care for them, but Florida DCF insisted on foster care and adoption. The relatives now want the survivor.



Relatives who tried to adopt abused twins want survivor

In 2004, months after 4-year-old fraternal twins had been taken from their father and placed in the custody of Jorge and Carmen Barahona, relatives in Texas made an emotional appeal to a Miami judge: The children would be better off with them.

Financial statements, character references and a glowing home study, wrote real estate investor Isidro Reyes, represent "clear proof of our concern for the well being of those kids, and our desire to gain their legal custody way before the Barahonas knew about their existence."

Over the next five years, Reyes, 59, and his wife, Ana, 51, who is the sister of the twins' biological father, would persist in their efforts to gain custody and adopt Nubia and Victor Barahona. But two judges ruled against them, apparently finding no reason to uproot the children from the Barahonas' southwest Miami-Dade home — despite many warning signs of possible abuse.

Now only Victor is alive, and the Reyeses intend to seek custody of him. Victor, who is being treated for chemical burns at Jackson Memorial Hospital, continues to improve, according to DCF spokesman Mark Riordan.

Victor was found on Feb. 14 in the cab of his adoptive father Jorge Barahona's truck, parked alongside Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County. Later that day, the body of his sister Nubia was found in a bag in the back of the truck.

Barahona, 53, is in the Palm Beach County Jail, charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. A judge in Miami-Dade County last week ordered his wife, Carmen, 60, to have no contact with Victor or two other adopted children.

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sandy Karlan ordered that Carmen Barahona's 6-year-old granddaughter remain with her biological father and said that neither volunteer guardians nor foster care caseworkers could discuss what she may have seen in the Barahona home.

Through it all, questions persist about how the state agency and the court system allowed the Barahonas to gain custody of the four children in the first place.

Why was the Reyes' petition for custody denied, first by Judge Ellen Sue Venzer, and then by Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr, who approved the twins' adoption by the Barahonas in 2009?

"That is a piece of the puzzle that is not clear to me to this day, and I find it somewhat troubling," said Miami attorney Steven Grossbard, who began representing the Reyeses in 2007. "Family members should be considered and have some priority."

In their quest to adopt Victor, his aunt and uncle are prepared to come to Miami whenever they are permitted to visit him, said Grossbard.

The Reyes' frustration over the court's refusal to grant them custody of the children is laid out in several hundred pages of documents that were released Tuesday by the state Department of Children & Families.

The agency is starting to look at what went so wrong as to create a tragedy that has gained national attention. DCF has ordered an internal investigation and named an independent panel to hold public hearings that will begin on Friday.

Among those documents are results of a 2004 home study conducted by the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services, and two letters sent to Venzer, the first judge.

In one letter, Reyes said he and his wife recognized that uprooting the twins from the Barahonas' home should not be done precipitously, since the couple "have developed an emotional bond with them.

"We highly appreciate the love that they 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."

Through questionnaires, the couple describe themselves as the financially comfortable parents of three grown children who live in a Houston subdivision, in a house with a big backyard just a block from a community center. He was a certified bilingual teacher, she a homemaker and beautician.

They had had contact with the children, and knew that the father, Ana Reyes' brother, and the children's mother were "irresponsible," troubled and could not care for them.

"We will teach them to love God and to love their friends and family as themselves," wrote Ana Reyes.

Grossbard said that in the absence of clear evidence of abuse, it is not unusual for family court judges to be reluctant to place children with guardians out of town, even if they are blood relatives.

"Unfortunately, the proceedings were too far along, and with the positive home study and the Barahonas' bonding, it was like trying to climb a mountain," said Grossbard. "We missed out on this one. And they are devastated, sad and very hurt."

Source: Sun Sentinel

This case has become the cause of a foster care panic in Florida, justifying taking even more children from parents. The press has overlooked the fact that the Barahona case started by taking two children from their real parents and placing them for adoption. After six months a Florida judge has found the safest refuge for the surviving boy Victor Barahona — with his natural family.



Child abuse survivor can return to Texas

A day after an unusual three-day hearing concluded, a Miami judge ordered that a victim of severe child abuse be returned to family members in Texas.

Victor Barahona, whose twin sister was killed after allegedly enduring years of horrific abuse, will return to Texas to live with an uncle who wants to adopt and raise him.

On Friday morning, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia signed an order returning the boy to Texas, where he spent most of the summer with his extended family. Victor told authorities he did not wish to live in Florida, but Sampedro-Iglesia ordered his return anyway, for a custody hearing requested by Miami prosecutors who will try his adoptive parents, Carmen and Jorge Barahona, for murder.

But Sampedro-Iglesia took additional actions, as well on Friday: She also announced she would launch an investigation to determine who discussed the boy’s case with The Miami Herald, which reported on the unusual custody battle Friday morning. A source told the newspaper Sampedro-Iglesia will swear in child welfare authorities involved in the case to determine who cooperated with the newspaper.

Weeks ago, Sampedro-Iglesia closed to the public all court proceedings involving the boy, saying she wished to protect his privacy.

On Friday, The Herald reported that Sampedro-Iglesia took testimony at the request of prosecutors who wanted Victor to remain in Miami, rather than be raised among his extended family in Texas. A psychological report presented at the hearing concluded the Texas relatives offered a loving and appropriate home for the boy, now 11.

“I think Victor will get his happy ending,” a source with knowledge of the case said Friday.

Victor and his twin sister, Nubia, entered the state’s foster care system in 2004 after his birth parents lost custody following an allegation of domestic violence. Jorge and Carmen Barahona adopted the twins in 2009, despite repeated warnings from teachers and school administrators that Nubia appeared to be the victim of both physical abuse and neglect while under their care as foster children. Nubia had told teachers she was starving, and once became hysterical when an administrator told the girl she was going to call Carmen Barahona. Nubia told the administrator her adoptive mother beat the soles of her feet with a sandal, records show.

In more recent months, a young relative told authorities that both Victor and Nubia had routinely been tied up and forced to live in a bathtub. Police alleged the twins were beaten and tortured..

On Feb. 14, Victor Barahona was found by a Road Ranger on the side of Interstate 95, drenched in toxic chemicals in the cab of his adoptive father’s red pickup truck. His sister was found hours later in the flatbed, nude and decomposing, and also steeped in chemicals. The Barahonas have been charged with aggravated child abuse and first-degree capital murder. They have pleaded innocent, and are awaiting trial.

Source: Miami Herald