CHILD ABUSE TRAGEDY
Home where abused twins lived was a house of horrors
The 3-bedroom home where two abused twins lived resembles a fortress — cloaked in shrubs, protected by cameras and secluded behind a gate.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND DIANA MOSKOVITZ
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.
‘NEVER SAW A KID’
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.