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Community reacts with horror

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer
Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Carson City detective Cate Summers carries evidence away from the home of 1404 Como St. No. 2 Friday night, where three adults allegedly kept a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old captive for years.
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Como Street, in the heart of Carson City just three blocks east of the sheriff’s department, is surrounded by single-family homes.

But this stretch of road between Carson Meadows Drive and Saliman Road dotted with low-income housing carries a bad reputation.

At least for the last 20 years, parents struggling from paycheck to paycheck land there, doing their best to raise children on a street that wasn’t their first choice, but was what they could afford. With three-bedroom apartments going for $625 a month, the riffraff moved in too.

Police are often called to Como Street on reports of domestic abuse, fighting and drug use. Once, a stabbing occurred there in front of dozens of witnesses. Another time, a storage unit nearby was raided and drug officers found a methamphetamine lab.

“This is not a very good area. It’s not my choosing to live here,” said a woman, too afraid to give her name or open her door more than a few inches on Friday. “This street is not a very good street.”

On Thursday that reputation got much worse.

According to investigators, behind the door of a rundown apartment building on Como Street, unspeakable abuse was being meted out to a brother and sister.

The two children were held captive in a bathroom for years and nearly starved to death.

“This is the worst case of child neglect I’ve ever seen in my 15 years,” said Lt. Ken Sandage, one of the first officers on the scene. “I’ve been to autopsies. I’ve handled death investigations of children. Never in my years of police work have I seen anything this horrible.”

First noticed

About 1:30 p.m. Thursday, a state worker named Sarah was driving near Second Street when she saw a little person pushing a shopping cart filled with “stuff.”

“She didn’t look very healthy and I was concerned. When I first saw her she was walking west in the middle of the street, then she made her way through the credit union parking lot,” Sarah said. “She was so small and I just thought, it was a school day she should be in school.”

As Sarah drove around keeping an eye on the girl who was barely as tall as the handles on the cart, she called 911 and reported the unusual sight.

“Several times she saw that I was kind of following her, but I didn’t want her to go away,” Sarah said.

Eight minutes after Sarah called 911, deputies found the girl sitting on a curb eating bread on Linda Kay Court. She weighed 41 pounds and stood 49 inches tall.

“She told deputies that she was 16 years old and had ran away from home because she has been locked in the bathroom for years with her brother,” a police report states. She said that when her grandmother opened the door, she shoved her inside and locked it. “She begged deputies to not take her back (home) because she feared that she would have to go back in the bathroom.”

But deputies took the girl to her home at 1404 Como Street No. 2 to check her story.

Her mother, Regina Rios, grandmother Esther Rios and stepfather, Tomas Granados, were home at the time.

“The deputies asked where the younger brother was who was also locked in the bathroom. The parents stated the girl was crazy, has mental issues and is lying. They insisted the boy is living in California,” the police report states. When deputies called Regina Rios’ sister in California, she said the boy was with her, outside playing. When the deputy pressed her for proof, the woman changed her story and said she’d call the officer back, the report states. When the call never came, Regina Rios allegedly, “told deputies that (the boy) was in fact at the residence and hidden under the bed.”

A family member escorted a deputy to a back room and called out the boy’s name. The 31-pound boy crawled out from beneath the bed.

“When deputies located the 11-year-old boy, he appeared to be so malnourished that his bones were sticking out,” the report reads. “Deputies located the bathroom where (the girl) claimed to have been living for the past five years. The door did in fact have a deadbolt located on the outside of the door as well as damage to the door, where it appeared someone had broken out.”

According to the report, Regina and Esther Rios eventually admitted they lock the children in the bathroom “at night, as well as when they go places because, ‘they steal food.'”

Detective Dave Legros said that when he was interviewing the grandmother she asked, “What were we supposed to do, lock the refrigerator?”

All three adults were arrested.

Escaping the bathroom

The family moved to Carson in 2000 from Los Angeles, Detective Dena Lacy said.

In 2001 the girl was reported as a runaway by her family.

Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong said it appears deputies found the girl and she was returned to her family. She never indicated she was being abused. The record from that incident describes her as 12 years old, 48 inches tall and weighing 85 pounds.

Investigators today wonder if that prompted the alleged confinement.

A record search Thursday revealed she never attended school in Carson City. Three healthy siblings who live in the apartment as well are all enrolled in Carson schools.

Records indicate the boy may have never attended school.

He’s talkative, but hard to understand because of a speech impediment. It seems only his sister can understand him, Sandage said.

The girl is talkative and brilliant, said Deputy Dan Gonzalez, one of two officers who found the girl on the curb.

“She is looking forward to the future,” he said. “She’s really an amazing girl.”

Detective Dena Lacy said that after the girl realized she wasn’t going back to the bathroom, she began to talk about the things she’d like.

“She wants a computer, video games and to see the movie ‘Harry Potter,'” Lacy said. “She’s never seen the movie, but she could hear it through the bathroom door.”

Lacy said that because of her confinement, the girl’s hearing is better than her eyesight. With that fine-tuned hearing, she also enjoyed listening to the soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”

Lt. Sandage said when he spoke to her she said, “I wanna be safe and I want a bed to sleep in.”

He said the boy asked for milk.

Heart wrenching

Members of the deputies association are arranging to open an education and medical fund for the children on Monday.

Community members are expressing their outrage on the Nevada Appeal’s online message boards and talk of the case came up around watercoolers from state office buildings to beauty salons.

Neighbors on the street with a bad reputation are shocked.

“It’s heartbreaking someone would do that to children,” said Susan Doiel, as she stood holding her 6-month-old daughter. “Obviously those parents are sick. Very sick to do that to children.”

Robin Duggins moved to Carson City in June because where she lived in Washington was so drug infested, she couldn’t bear to think of raising her children there.

“I wouldn’t have just let that go if I had known something was going on,” she said when she heard the news. “How can a parent do that? I’m feeling a little nauseous.”

Sarah, the state worker who first made the call that rescued the girl, said she didn’t know anything about the story until late in the afternoon on Friday. When she told co-workers, everyone congratulated her for her part.

“They keep saying, you should feel great for what you did. But I don’t. I just feel like crying,” she said. “This breaks my heart.”

Seeking justice

The Rios women and Granados were arraigned Friday morning in Carson City Justice Court.

Esther Rios laid her hand on her face and chewed on a fingernail as Judge Robey Willis read the charges of felony child neglect and false imprisonment. When Willis mistakenly attributed drug charges out of Placerville, Calif., to Rios, she spoke up.

“That is not me. I do not have a police record. This is the first time I’ve been arrested,” she said. “No sir, that is not me.”

The court record was corrected.

During Granados’ arraignment, it was revealed he was arrested at the Como Street apartment in 2001 on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge of which he was ultimately convicted. The victim is listed in court documents at Regina Rios.

“The victim stated she was in bed and (Granados) came in the bedroom,” according to the arrest report. “(Granados) climbed on top of her, grabbed her hair and jerked it front to back. She tried to kick him off and then he hit her below the left knee.”

A preliminary hearing in the child abuse case is set for Feb. 3. Each is being held on $100,000 bail.

n Contact reporter F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.