Three children removed over suspected abuse, then skeletal remains found

Phoenix firefighters responded to a fire at a home where three children have been removed by child welfare workers. They found human remains in the attic.

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By David K. Li

Firefighters in Phoenix, Arizona, responded to a fire in a house where three children had been recently removed by child-welfare workers — and found human skeletal remains in the attic, authorities said Wednesday.

When firefighters first arrived at the scene Tuesday, they were greeted at the door by a man who told them the flames were just in the fireplace and that they didn't need to come inside, officials said.

"Firefighters knew that was obviously not the case," Phoenix fire Capt. Rob McDade told NBC News. "We ignored his pleas and made entry."

Firefighters got the call about the fire at 2:07 p.m. If they had arrived at the scene five minutes later, the entire house would have been engulfed and not been saved, according to McDade.

After putting out flames, a department arson dog sniffed gasoline on the walls and floor, officials said. Firefighters checked for hot spots in the attic and found skeletal remains, McDade said.

The 911 call about the fire came about an hour after after social workers from the Arizona Department of Child Safety removed two children, 9 and 4 years old, from the home, police said.

The prior week, on Jan. 20, Phoenix police had visited the house to find an 11-year-old girl home alone, and she was removed by Department of Child Safety social workers who suspected child abuse, authorities said.

It's not clear how many children lived in the house.

Rafael LoeraMCSO
Rafael LoeraMCSO

The father, 56-year-old Rafael Loera, was booked into jail on charges of concealing human body parts, endangerment, child abuse and arson, police said. The mom, 50-year-old Maribel Loera, was booked on suspicion of child abuse.

“As you can imagine, this is a very complex investigation. What’s important to know is that the three children are safe," Phoenix police Sgt. Maggie Cox told reporters at the scene on Wednesday.

“You can only imagine the amount, the layers of investigation that are going on. There are so many interviews that are being done, evidence that’s being processed,” Cox said.

The parents made an initial appearance in a Maricopa County courtroom where a judge ordered them held in lieu of $200,000 cash bond each.

The remains found at their home were allegedly of a child.

"She allegedly participated in concealing the body of a deceased child in the family home to conceal any questioning into what happened to that child," prosecutor Sarah Corcoran said of Maribel Loera.

Corcoran also alleged that Rafael Loera confessed to setting the fire, in hopes of burning down the house and killing himself.

"He is alleged to have done nothing to prevent the abuse of the victims although he allegedly admitted that he knew that it was happening and he allegedly admitted that he left the victims in the care of the co-suspect knowing that the abuse was happening," Corcoran said.

The suspects had not yet hired or been assigned defense lawyers by late Thursday morning, a prosecution spokeswoman said.

Associated Press contributed.