Omaree Varela was a 9-year-old boy living in abusive conditions in his mother's and stepfather's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We know he died of blunt-force trauma after being kicked to death by his mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus. Let me repeat those words: Kicked. To. Death. KICKED. To. Death. By his own mother. That fact alone has stolen the breath of most of New Mexico's citizens. What isn't as well known are the actions, decisions and missteps that allowed Omaree to continue living at home even after he called 911 six months before his tragic death. His death has sparked debate in the middle of a gubernatorial election, with blame being passed around like a live grenade. Involved in the blame game: Governor Susana Martinez, who is the former district attorney of the Third Judicial District in Dona Ana County.
That 911 Call
In June of 2013, Omaree Varela was still alive. He was also still being subjected to physical and emotional abuse. This young boy tried to save himself. He knew that the police department had the authority to act and he called the 911 dispatch center in Bernalillo County. The 911 operator heard the abusive words being flung at Omaree by his stepfather, Stephen Casaus:
"I don't want to be your dad," " I wish you weren't here," "I don't want to deal with you anymore." These were the words spoken by Stephen Casaus, according to ABC News. In the background, someone believed to be Synthia Varela-Casaus, Omaree's mother, could be heard screaming at Omaree, and calling him names, making him cry..
Lack of Action by Albuquerque Police Department
Two APD officers have been placed on leave after failing to report a visit to the Varela-Casaus home after Omaree called 911. While this administrative action didn't take place for more than sixmonths, once the facts of the multiple calls to the police and Children, Youth and Families Department became known, so did the many missteps by both government agencies.
An internal affairs investigation uncovered the officers' failure to contact CYFD to make an official referral of Omaree's abuse. The two officers questioned Varela-Casaus and Casaus about the events leading up to that June call. They also took a "quick look" through the Varela-Casaus home, according to ABC News. This is according to Henry Varela (no relation), communications director for CYFD. In addition to their failure to notify CYFD, neither officer wrote a report. "They did not write a report in this case," according to Albuquerque's chief administrative officer, Rob Perry. "We're going to investigate it, and we're going to get to the bottom of it, and there's going to be consequences if there isn't some damn good legal explanation for that," Perry said, according to ABC News.
The Referrals to CYFD
Multiple sources have reported that multiple referrals were made to the state's child protective services agency. CYFD revealed three referrals about alleged abuse of Omaree by his mother. However, there were nine referrals made. Omaree's parents had another child living in the home. This may have precluded the agency from saying anything about additional abuse referrals regarding Omaree.
Regardless of how many referrals were revealed by the agency, its management and supervisors in Bernalillo county knew the danger in which Omaree lived. They knew that he was at considerable risk of abuse. And they allowed his mother to keep him at home. The agency knew that Omaree's stepfather did nothing to prevent his stepson from being abused.
The Investigator's Actions During Omaree's Interviews
One year before his death, Omaree disclosed to his teacher that his mother had physically abused him. At that time, he had a large bruise on his face, which prompted the teacher to call CYFD. The responding social work investigator, Elizabeth Du Passage, visually examined Omaree, finding the facial injury -- and a large bruise extending from one hip to his thigh. Omaree said that injury came from being hit with a belt by his mother.
APD sent an officer to the school as well. Responding officer Jennifer Jara said she was "shocked" to see Omaree sitting with his mother while Ms. Du Passage was conducting her interview. Once Officer Jara was able to interview Omaree, he had decided to change his story, saying he fell while chasing his younger brother.
I am a former CYFD social worker. I didn't conduct many investigations, but I knew enough to keep a child separate from a suspected perpetrator of abuse. (Full disclosure: I no longer hold a license from the state of New Mexico, which means I am no longer a social worker. Thus the term, "former" social worker.)
Not only did a CYFD investigative social worker interview Omaree in front of his parents -- so did the two officers who responded to his June 2013 911 call, according to ABC News. Again, Omaree should have been interviewed while physically separated from his parents.
Omaree's Extensive Injuries
Omaree's autopsy revealed multiple injuries. These injuries include multiple burns to his torso, multiple patchy small contusions to the serosal surfaces of the small and large bowel, bruises on his arms, legs, tongue and chest, abrasions on his face, a healing laceration on his scalp and hemorrhage into the soft tissues of his back, diaphragm, an abdominal wall muscle, abdominal cavity and on the outer surfaces of the bowel.
Varela-Casaus admitted to police that she knocked him into a dresser. After he fell to the floor, she said she stomped him twice and kicked him in the abdomen. "I didn't do it. It wasn't intentional. It was an accident. I was disciplining him. I kicked him the wrong way. It was an accident." This is what Varela-Casaus admitted to the police that fatal night, according to KOAT.com.
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