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Father searched for his children

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer

Javier Rodriguez wondered for years what happened to the two children he and ex-girlfriend Regina Rios conceived more than a decade ago in Los Angeles. The boy and girl were only 2 and 3 years old when the couple’s relationship dissolved.

Though he faithfully paid his child support to the Los Angeles County Child Support Division, he hadn’t seen or heard from his son or daughter since they were toddlers, he said. Despite his repeated requests, officials wouldn’t give him the address to where the check was being sent.

Al Reyes, spokesman for L.A. County Child Support Services, confirmed his division will not release that information.

Rodriguez asked Regina’s family where they’d gone. No one would tell him.

Two weeks ago he learned of the children’s fates.

His daughter, now 13, was healthy and going to school in Carson City.

He couldn’t believe what had happened to his son.

On Jan. 19, authorities found the boy so grotesquely malnourished that his height was that of a 4-year-old. At 31 pounds, he weighed no more than a toddler. Today is his 12th birthday.

In an overcrowded Como Street apartment the boy shared with his mother, grandmother, stepfather and three healthy siblings, he and his 16-year-old half-sister had allegedly been neglected for years – confined to a bathroom and living on a diet of bologna and hot dogs doled out by their grandmother.

“I don’t know what to think, all I know is my heart popped,” Rodriguez, 43, said Thursday from Los Angeles. “I always thought about them, I always talked about them. I knew one day I’d find them again.”

Esther Rios, 56, Regina Rios, 33 and Tomas Granados, 33, will each be tried on six counts of child neglect, child abuse and false imprisonment. They each face 70 years in prison if convicted. A trial date has yet to be set.

Testimony heard during a preliminary hearing indicated Esther Rios was in charge. She allegedly kept the children locked in the bathroom in her room. She was the one who brought them their paltry meals. The 16-year-old girl, who said she escaped her confine by locking her grandmother in the bathroom, testified Esther Rios was also brutal.

Rodriguez said he was familiar with Esther Rios’ disposition, though he never witnessed any abuse. During his three-year relationship with Regina, Esther lived with them.

“She was very manipulative of Regina,” he said. “She’s evil.”

When he and Regina first broke up, after she allegedly got pregnant by another man, he was able to see his children whenever he wanted.

But then, “things started tightening up on me. They were never there, or the only one who was there was Esther. I would ask to see my kids and she’d say they weren’t home. She’d say, ‘You wanna see a baby, look at this baby,’ and hold up (the newborn),” he recalled. “It was like she wanted to rub it in my face.”

One day when he stopped by to drop off some diapers, the house was empty.Rodriguez was shocked to hear his son had never attended school. He worried how his daughter was handling everything.

“Tell me,” he asked softly. “How is her attitude?”

He is grateful to the 16-year-old half-sister whom he remembers as a “sweet, quiet,” child. “She called me daddy,” he said.

And he was amazed by her strength.

“I commend her for what she did. She actually saved her own life, and she saved (my son’s) life,” he said. “For that I’ll always be thankful.”

The information he is getting about his children is coming mainly from news articles he found on the Internet. The Division of Child and Family Services is being fairly judicious in what they tell him, he said. He still doesn’t know where they are. He still hasn’t spoken to them. His daughter and her 9-year-old half-brother are together in foster care. His son and the 16-year-old half-sister are together in another home.

Chrystal Main, division spokeswoman, could not be reached for comment.

“I just want to talk to them,” he said. “I hope there’s something I can do. I feel guilty because this has happened, but I just kept telling myself over the years, they are fine, Regina is taking care of them.”

A long time ago when he and Regina were still together, Rodriguez took the kids to Hollywood.

“I thought they didn’t get out much, and so I took them to the movies to see ‘The Little Mermaid.’ When we were there we got our picture taken with Disney characters,” he said. “That’s the only picture I had. When I moved out, it was gone.”

Now, he just waits for word of when he can see his children again. He and his girlfriend of six years, Margaret Luna, would take them in a minute, he said – including the child who is not his, but saved his son.

“We know they can never be separated. They’ve been through this together,” he said. “I hope there’s something I can do. I just want Nevada state to give me that chance. Let me show (the children) I appreciate them.”

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