Girl, 10, found dead in truck in Palm Beach
The dead body found inside a truck in Palm Beach County Monday turned out to be the 10-year-old adoptive daughter of the driver, who was from Miami-Dade.
Eight hours after 10-year-old Victor Doctor stumbled out of his adoptive father’s pickup truck overcome by toxic fumes, Florida child welfare investigators dispatched to the boy’s Westchester home on Monday were confronted with a startling question: Where was Victor’s twin sister?
The answer would turn the red truck, near I-95 in West Palm Beach, into a crime scene: The girl was found inside a bag, dead, in the bed of the pickup.
Both Victor and his twin, who has not been identified by police or child welfare administrators, had been the subject of troubling call to the Department of Children & Families’ abuse hotline only four days earlier. The children, a school teacher said, were being bound hand-and-feet with duct tape.
The children, the report said, were being untied only so they could eat.
In the wake of Monday’s tragedy, two other children who were adopted by Jorge L. Barahona, Victor’s adoptive father, were taken into custody by DCF Tuesday. Their case will be heard Wednesday before Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, who has been asked to place them, once again, in foster care.
Jorge Barahona was charged late Tuesday by the West Palm Beach police with aggravated child abuse, police told reporters at a Tuesday night news conference. "We expect other charges to be forthcoming," said police spokesman Chase Scott.
"We are in the preliminary stages of a very tragic and extremely complex investigation," said Mark Riordan, a DCF spokesman. "We are working side-by-side with law enforcement in two jurisdictions, and protective investigators in two jurisdictions.
"Though there is an open investigation involving this family," Riordan added, "our primary concern is the safety of these children."
Sources say Victor remains hospitalized in critical condition, having been placed on a respirator so he can breathe. Barahona, police said, was speaking with investigators Tuesday night.
Scott said the chemicals on Victor’s body were so toxic that an officer who was exposed to the child became ill -- suffering from headaches and chest pains. Officers still do not know precisely what chemicals were being kept in the truck’s cab. Barahona is an exterminator.
According to sources with knowledge of the case:
Victor and his twin became foster children when their birth mother’s drug and alcohol abuse led to persistent neglect. They were sent to live with Jorge Barahona, 53, who owns a pest control company, and his wife, Carmen, 60, who worked for a pediatrician. A few years ago, the Barahonas adopted the twins.
The Barahonas appeared to be traditional suburban parents: they had two dachshund puppies, a parrot and had been foster parents for a decade. In the chambers of Circuit Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr, the two children said privately that they wanted the couple to adopt them.
Before the adoption, the Barahonas had been the subject of three reports to the abuse hotline, said Riordan, who declined to specify the allegations. A source said one report stated the girl had been going to school dirty, while another report claimed one of the children had been bruised. The allegations did not result in any action against the Barahonas.
The Barahonas also had custody of two other children adopted from the state, a 7-year-old girl and an 11- or 12-year-old boy, and often cared for a grandchild in their home, at 11501 SW 47th Terrace.
On Feb. 10, DCF’s abuse hotline received an alarming report: Victor and his sister were being physically abused by their adoptive parents, who allegedly were tying the twins up with duct tape. The twins, the report said, "are being untied to be fed."
A neighborhood child had reported the alleged abuse to a teacher, who, in turn, called the state.
But between Feb. 10 and Monday, child welfare investigators had not taken the children out of the home - who were being home schooled, and had little visibility in the community - into custody. Carmen Barahona had told investigators she and Jorge were separated, and she had custody of only the other two children - not Victor and his twin.
On Monday, during early morning rush-hour, a highway road ranger found Barahona and his adoptive son in the pickup - emblazoned with CJ Pest Control and a Miami-Dade phone number - on the side of Interstate 95 between Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and 45th Street.
Barahona was slumped behind the wheel. The boy, Victor, was clambering out of the truck, in the midst of a seizure, and suffering from what appeared to be chemical burns.
The boy was rushed to St. Mary’s hospital, his father to Columbia Medical Center, police say.
Police called DCF administrators, who realized quickly that they already were investigating the report from four days earlier. They dispatched investigators to the Barahona’s Westchester home, where they noticed Victor’s sister was missing.
About 5 p.m., Hazmat teams were asked to return to the truck. A state Department of Environmental Protection worker found the girl’s body in the bed of the truck. Police said late Tuesday the body was partially decomposed.
The body remained inside the flatbed Tuesday afternoon - black tarps draped over the truck - until late Tuesday evening.
West Palm Beach Police told reporters late Tuesday that the pickup was to be taken to a ‘‘secure’’ facility where the FBI will examine it.
Since the girl’s body was found, at least one of Victor’s adoptive siblings has confirmed to authorities that the children were being bound in the Barahona’s home, a source told The Miami Herald.