A toddler who was allegedly beaten to death by his caretaker in West Covina had been moved to the home along with his sister just three weeks earlier when his own mother was suspected of abusing the two children, authorities said Monday.
Police in West Covina arrested Caroline Robles Amaya on Sunday on suspicion of murder after an autopsy revealed that her 2-year-old cousin, Joseph Partida, died of massive head injuries and not a bathtub drowning, as the woman had reported to authorities Thursday.
Amaya, 34, was being held without bail pending arraignment today in Citrus Municipal Court.
The arrest stunned an apartment building full of neighbors who knew Amaya as a devoted mother who, just over the weekend, held a carwash to raise $140 for the burial.
Acquaintances at the Pacific Isle apartments, where Amaya moved earlier this year, were adamant that she did not kill the boy.
Neighbors described Amaya as a loving mother to her own four children, ages 3 to 15, who took the two foster children--both suffering numerous bruises and cigarette burns--into her home.
"We saw them all the time at the pool, and she was always nurturing those kids, always hugging them," said Chris Dunkle, who lives next to Amaya's. "She looked like the perfect mom."
On Sunday, as her friends looked on, a handcuffed Amaya was led away by detectives. Police said that while it was disturbing that Joseph had died in a home where he had been sent to escape child abuse, they were not prepared to criticize county officials who placed the boy there.
"It would be easy to throw stones at this point," said Lt. Darrell Myrick. "But it's hard to say what is best [for children] in many cases. You've got all these kids and you have got to put them someplace. It's not easy to decide what to do."
Myrick said the boy and his sister, 11 months, had been taken from their mother's La Puente home after allegations of abuse. Amaya took them in.
When authorities arrived at Amaya's apartment Thursday, she appeared "very distraught," Myrick said.
But investigators quickly became suspicious. "A child of that age can usually prevent himself from drowning in a bathtub," Myrick said. Once paramedics gave up efforts to revive the child, detectives noticed several bumps and bruises.