A South Florida judge ruled Thursday morning that the three children of missing Miramar mom Vilet Torrez will remain with their maternal grandparents for now, denying custody to the estranged husband police are calling a person of interest in her disappearance.
The children are "actually doing pretty well," Vilet Torrez's brother Javier Blanco told HuffPost Miami after squaring off in court with their father, Cid Torrez. "Being at home with my mother I think they feel at home. They know their mother is missing, but they seem to have a very childlike faith that she'll be back."
General Magistrate Giuseppina Miranda also ordered Cid Torrez to stop making unsupervised contact with little Vilet, 12, Cid Jr., 7, and Marcus, 4. Their mother's relatives told the court he had slipped a note with a phone number into a pair of his son's pants during a supervised visit and contacted them by phone and email.
Police say Vilet Torrez was last seen leaving a friend's house the night of Friday, March 30, hours after Cid Torrez took the children for the weekend.
Cid Torrez reported Vilet missing three days later. Her company car was found at her townhouse, but the 38-year-old University of Miami grad hadn't shown up for work over the weekend. Miramar Police announced last week they believe she is a victim of foul play, and executed a search warrant for Cid Torrez's DNA and fingerprints.
The couple's relationship, which began in high school, was reportedly troubled since before they married in 1998. Vilet and Cid Torrez finally separated several months ago; what Cid Torrez described as "little differences right at the end" were described otherwise by her brother, who told ABC News the family had feared for Vilet's life for a year.
"From my perspective, it sounded like an abusive relationship," Blanco told HuffPost, alleging Cid Torrez once became physical with his sister at a car dealership when she didn't want to use her credit to help one of his family members purchase a vehicle. "My sister was always telling my mom about different things he would say or do, stories of her being locked in a room."
Blanco said Cid Torrez twice told new acquaintances Vilet was dead in the years before she went missing, including telling a California woman sometime in 2008 or 2009 that his wife had been murdered. After the woman found out otherwise, Blanco said, she called members of Vilet Torrez's family to let them know.
Cid Torrez allegedly told a second person to whom he was selling a truck that his wife had just died and he needed the cash to pay for her burial. Vilet's mother, Blanco said, was especially alarmed by such behavior.
"Everybody was telling her, 'You need to get out of this,' and when she finally was trying to move on, that's when all this happened," Blanco said. "He hadn't been [living at the home] for 3 months and the day he decided to be at the house, that's the day she disappeared."
Cid Torrez has not been charged in the case. He has repeatedly denied he has anything to do with his wife's disappearance, as has his attorney who was not immediately available for comment. A Miramar police spokesperson told HuffPost last week he has been cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
The couple's children were removed from their father's custody after an anonymous call April 5 to the Florida Department of Children and Families. CBS Miami reports the caller told authorities Cid Torrez had a gun and was threatening to "end it all," which his attorney dismissed as hearsay.
Though no gun was found in Torrez's previously shared home or car, a judge ruled at an emergency custody hearing that the children would stay with Vilet Torrez' parents and have supervised visitation with their father.
Miranda upheld that ruling again Thursday morning at a preliminary hearing; a more permanent custody ruling is expected May 10.
Investigators, meanwhile, have searched the family's cars and home, removing and bagging bricks from around the entry. Court documents obtained by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel show police removed items from the family home including bathroom towels and ladies' shorts with what may be blood stains.
While the investigation continues, the Blanco family is trying to come to grips with Vilet's disappearance. Gathering Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil at Vilet's favorite church, her brother described to NBCMiami what it was like to grapple with the unknown.
"We just thought it would be good to get her name out there and to actually have an event that people could come and pay their respects and sort of -- I don't know if say goodbye would be the right term -- but sort of feel at peace with what's happening,” he said.
Photos of Vilet Torrez: