CROSBYTON, Texas (AP) — Authorities have not released the cause of death for a child found dead inside a box in a West Texas basement.
An autopsy was performed Friday on the body that Crosbyton authorities believe is 2-year-old Leah Marie Aguirre. Her family was preparing for her funeral.
Her caretaker, Matilda Almaraz, is charged with capital murder and remains jailed on $1 million bond.
The small body was found Thursday in a home in Crosbyton, 40 miles east of Lubbock. Leah Marie was reported missing Tuesday.
Leah Marie’s mother had turned the child over to Almaraz, but it’s unclear when, said Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Paul Zimmerman. Child welfare officials found out in October because they were already working with the child’s mother and saw that Leah Marie wasn’t living with her. But Almaraz was allowed to keep the toddler after an agency inspection and background check, he said.
Child welfare workers visited Almaraz’s home in October and talked to her, and “there did not appear to be any danger to the child,” Zimmerman said. When a parent voluntarily turns a child over to a family friend, “we try to respect the decision, and we did so in this case,” he said.
But after police reported finding a body in Almaraz’s basement, child welfare officials removed two boys, ages 4 and 5, from her home and both are now in foster care, Zimmerman said. It’s unclear what their relationship is to Almaraz.
An Amber Alert was issued earlier this week after Almaraz said a Child Protective Services worker took Leah Marie on Jan. 3 but that she had just learned that the agency did not have her, Crosbyton Police Chief Greg Parrott said.
An initial search of the Almaraz home turned up nothing, but a search warrant was issued after FBI agents questioned her a second time and she seemed to have “great concern” for a particular area in the house, Parrott said. Investigators then searched the basement and found the box under clothing and wrapped in plastic bags behind a shelf, he said.
Authorities don’t know if there is any truth in Almaraz’s story about the man posing as a CPS worker, Parrott said.
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