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New documents detail hardships endured by Florida twins

By Kim Segal, CNN
Jorge Barahona has been charged with attempted murder of his 10-year-old adopted son.
Jorge Barahona has been charged with attempted murder of his 10-year-old adopted son.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New documents in case of adopted Barahona twins reveal life full of hardships
  • Secretary of the Department of Children and Families requested independent inquiry
  • Report from 2007: "Nubia is always hungry, and she eats a lot at school"
  • Nubia was found dead last week in her adoptive dad's truck; brother is still in hospital

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- An independent panel has been asked to investigate the actions of Florida's child protection system in the case of 10-year-old twins, one of whom was found dead in the truck of her adoptive father while the other was rescued with life-threatening burns.

Documents in the case released to the public Monday paint a disturbing picture of how the twins suffered hardships, first with their biological parents and then in foster care with their eventual adoptive parents.

Jorge Barahona had parked his pest-control truck on the side of a south Florida interstate on February 14 when a roadside assistance ranger said he found him and his adopted son ill inside the vehicle, which was filled with toxic chemicals. The body of his adopted daughter, Nubia, was discovered in the back of the truck.

Barahona has been charged with attempted first-degree murder with a weapon and aggravated child abuse with a weapon. He is now in the West Palm Beach jail. His son remains hospitalized.

"It has been a week since this tragedy became public, and the pain and shock has not begun to wear off for this department, our partners or this community," said David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families.

Wilkins, who requested the independent panel, visited the boy over the weekend and said he is optimistic about his recovery.

As the doctors tend to the boy, several investigations have been opened to find out how and why this happened. The West Palm Beach Police Department is investigating the death of the little girl.

The twins' adoptive mother, Carmen Barahona, has not been charged in the case, but police say they are looking into everyone who had access to the children. Carmen Barahona has declined to comment on the case.

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The independent panel's investigation and a criminal investigation have been opened to look at the role that the Department of Children and Families played in the Barahonas' long-term dealings with the agency, Wilkins said.

"The tragic death of Nubia Barahona and the ongoing horrors of what the Barahona children faced would only be made worse if we as a state and a department did not learn from this sad case," said Wilkins.

The agency has made public more than 150 pages of documents pertaining to the case.

In 2004, the two toddlers were placed in foster care with the Barahonas after they were taken away from their biological father. That man was arrested in a case of sexual battery against a minor, but not against one of his children, according to the documents. The outcome of that case was unclear from the documents.

One report brings to light how difficult Nubia's life was from early on, referring to verbal abuse by her biological mother: "Mom tells Nubia she hates her and calls her a bitch."

The biological mother, who is not named, lost her parental rights because of drugs and alcohol, according to an investigative report made by a Department of Children and Families investigator.

Things didn't get better for the twins in foster care, according to reports quoting information provided by a nurse, teacher and school principal. Among the documents released are reports of abuse and problems in the Barahona home that a Department of Children and Families investigator looked into:

Report from December 2004

A nurse raised concerns about Nubia's foster parents to a Department of Children and Families official. The girl was born with a condition that needs constant medical attention. Nubia suffered from virilization, an adrenal gland disorder that results in exaggerated masculine characteristics, Dr. Walter Lambert with the Department of Children and Families said at a court hearing last week.

The document says, "Foster parent never goes to the appointment with the children. She sends them with transportation."

It continues: "She stated that she has a concern for the child if the placement is adoption because the foster parent would then have the sole responsibility to care for the child and she does not believe that will happen."

Report from February 2006

The report says, "Nubia, the child, was noticed with a huge bruise located on her chin and neck area. The injury is about the size of a tangerine."

When looking into this allegation, the investigator spoke to the child's kindergarten teacher. The report says, "The child told her that she fell at home" and the teacher "stated she did not know what to believe." The teacher also told the investigator that the child sometimes comes to school "not too clean."

The Barahonas denied any wrongdoing, and Nubia told the investigator that she fell. Determining that no child abuse was involved, the investigator closed the case.

Report from March 2007

This report made to the child protection agency alleges: "For the past five months, Nubia has been smelling and appearing unkempt." It says her brother also appears unkempt.

"There is concern that maybe she is not eating at home. Nubia is always hungry, and she eats a lot at school. Nubia is afraid to talk."

The principal, when interviewed by the investigator, said, "On one occasion, Nubia got apple sauce in her hair, the next day she had apple sauce still in her hair." The principal adds, "Nubia appears to be threatened or scared of the foster mother."

The agency's investigator wrote that he found two old discolored uniform shirts that needed to be thrown away and "Aside from this, the foster parents appear to be adequately caring for the (children)."

2009

The twins are adopted by the Barahonas. The adoption paperwork has never been made public.

Report from June 9, 2010

Another allegation made to the agency says: "Nubia's hunger has been uncontrollable, she sneaks and steal food, steals money, has hair loss, is very thin, unfocused, nervous, and jittery."

It is also alleged that Nubia missed two weeks of school and had an unpleasant odor.

Carmen Barahona was interviewed for the report and said her daughter's medical problems were to blame. The investigator wrote, "The parents are ensuring that the children's needs educational, medical, and physical needs are met."

The guardian ad litem, a volunteer advocate for the children, wrote a report to the court expressing his concerns with the children being placed with the Barahonas before they were adopted, according to Sonia Ferrer, circuit director of the guardian ad litem program.

The report wasn't released in the first batch of documents, but three letters that the Barahonas wrote to then-Gov. Charlie Crist were made public. The couple wrote the governor about their problems with the guardian ad litem. They complained about being unfairly portrayed, and they stated the allegations against them were unfounded.

The intake reports from 2004 to 2010 note that law enforcement was not notified about the allegations.

Over the years, the Miami-Dade Police Department had been called to the home 16 times, according to Jacqui Colyer, Southern Region director of the Department of Children and Families.

Colyer did not discuss the content of the calls, but she did say that two of them took place in the past three years: a 911 hang-up and a call on the day of the incident from Palm Beach to the Miami-Dade Police Department. "So there weren't a lot of police call-outs to the home, it was just that over 15 years they ended up with about 16 call-outs," said Colyer.

Whether Department of Children and Families investigators knew about those calls or the nature of them will likely be one of many questions addressed in the independent investigation.

"I am personally committed to ensuring that we do our best to prevent even one such tragedy from occurring again," said Wilkins. "We owe it to our citizens. We owe it to our employees. And we owe it to the Barahona children."

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