PHOENIX, Ariz. – Skeletal remains found in the house of a Phoenix couple accused of abusing three children who had been removed from their custody belonged to another child who might have also been abused, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
The remains were found inside the house Tuesday night by firefighters after someone reported seeing smoke coming from the dwelling. The report came an hour after investigators from the Department of Child Safety had removed a 9-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl over child abuse allegations.
Rafael Loera, 56, and Maribel Loera, 50, face charges of arson, child abuse and concealment of a dead body. The name of their court-appointed attorney was not publicly available, and the couple had not met with the lawyer prior to their first appearance in court, Wednesday.
Child welfare authorities began investigating on Jan. 20, when an 11-year-old girl called police to report she was home alone and scared. The girl was removed from the home, but no other children were there at the time, police said.
Darren DaRonco, a spokesman for the Department of Child Safety, said the agency learned that more children lived in the home after removing the girl. The department obtained a court order to remove the two other children and went there on Tuesday, DaRonco said.
An hour after the boy and girl were removed, someone reported seeing smoke coming from the house.
Responding firefighters then found skeletal remains in the house, police said.
Police haven't released details of whose remains were found, but a prosecutor in court on Wednesday said authorities believed Maribel Loera abused a child, possibly leading to his or her death.
“She allegedly participated in concealing the body of a deceased child in the family home to conceal any questioning into what happened to that child," prosecutor Sarah Corcoran said.
Corcoran also said Rafael Loera confessed to setting the fire in an effort to end his life and burn the house down.
“He is alleged to have done nothing to prevent the abuse of the victims although he allegedly admitted that he knew that it was happening and he allegedly admitted that he left the victims in the care of the co-suspect knowing that the abuse was happening," Corcoran said, adding that he confessed to hiding the corpse.
Corcoran argued the couple are a flight risk and a danger to the children.
A judge issued the couple $200,000 cash-only bond.
Associated Press reporter Jacques Billeaud contributed to this report.