Three children were kept in a hotel bathroom for about a year and were "horribly emaciated" when police found them earlier this month, authorities said. One claimed to have been repeatedly sexually assaulted.
The children's mother, 30-year-old Abneris Santiago, is charged with injury to a child. Her 37-year-old live-in boyfriend, Alfred Santiago, is charged with aggravated sexual assault and continual sexual abuse.
The extended stay hotel where the Santiagos lived sits alongside one of Dallas' busiest freeways. It has daily and weekly rates and offers maid service for an extra cost, though it wasn't clear if hotel employees had entered the unit where the children were found.
An attorney for the hotel chain said there were no complaints from other guests and employees about the unit.
"When law enforcement and management arrived ... the unit was very, very clean," said Steven Stefani, senior counsel for a Budget Suites of America. "What became apparent is these people worked very hard in concealing these children in the back bathroom."
Couple remains in jail
The Santiagos remained jailed Wednesday. Abneris Santiago was being held on $50,000 bail, while Alfred Santiago was being held on $125,000 bail. Her initial court appearance is not expected until Aug. 3, said her attorney, James Jamison.
His attorney, Richard Carrizales, declined to comment.
According to an arrest affidavit, Abneris Santiago called police on July 2 and asked for help getting her children and belongings from the hotel. Officers found a healthy 1-year-old girl — the child of the Santiagos, Jamison said — in a crib.
Inside the bathroom, they found an 11-year-old girl, a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old boy — Abneris Santiago's children from other relationships, Jamison said. It was apparent the children suffered from "serious physical, emotional and mental neglect," according to the affidavit.
The 10-year-old was covered in bruises and all three were "horribly emaciated, underweight and malnourished," the affidavit said.
The 11-year-old told authorities that their mother left them with her boyfriend while she worked. She said they were allowed to leave the bathroom only when he took a shower and that they were regularly beaten and rarely fed.
The girl told police she had been sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend for at least three years. She described numerous rapes and said she was forced to perform oral sex on him. She also said the boyfriend threatened to kill her if she told her mother about the assaults.
Children in temporary foster care
The children were initially hospitalized for 10 days. The 10-year-old was hospitalized again recently, said Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marissa Gonzales. All four children are now in temporary foster care.
Abneris Santiago told police that Alfred Santiago did not care for her children because, according to him, "they were not his responsibility," the affidavit said.
"She just had a history of making poor judgments about her male companions," Jamison said. "I think ultimately the evidence will show that this man was controlling her and controlling the children."
Two residents said they had seen the couple around the hotel complex, which has several apartment-style buildings.
Shenika Gantt, 18, said she once talked to Abneris Santiago about getting a job at the restaurant where she worked.
"I never knew she had kids," Gantt said.
Kennetha Mathis said she had seen the Santiagos with the 1-year-old.
"The only kid I knew they had was the baby. She used to bring the baby out," she said.
'My jaw just hit the floor'
Abneris Santiago's brother, Abner Santiago, came to Dallas from Ohio to check on the family after their mother spoke with her daughter on the phone, The Dallas Morning News reported. Abner Santiago said family members had been concerned about his sister for several years since she met Alfred Santiago and moved from Florida, where her mother had been "basically raising her kids for her."
He was with his sister and police when they went to the hotel. The children were so emaciated that they threw up when child protective workers first tried to feed them. The children's lips were dry, swollen and cracked, their ribs were protruding, and their cheeks and eyes were sunken into dark hollows.
"My jaw just hit the floor," Abner Santiago told the newspaper. "I just broke down."
Jamison told the AP his client was afraid to tell authorities about the abuse.
"I think it did take a lot of courage on her behalf to notify the police about this situation and bring the police to her residence to rescue the children," he said.