Parents arrested in death of boy who had begged not to be returned to them
The parents of a 4-year-old boy who had begged not to be returned to them have been arrested in his death, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced on Thursday.
Jose Cuatro and Ursula Juarez were apprehended months after they brought their son, Noah, to a hospital and claimed that the child had drowned in a pool at their apartment complex in Palmdale, Calif. At the time, doctors were skeptical of their story, noting evidence of injuries to Noah's body "that was suspicious in nature and consistent with possible abuse," according to police.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office concluded that Noah was the victim of a homicide.
"The criminal arrest of Noah Cuatro's biological parents is an important step forward in this ongoing case," Supervisor Kathryn Barger said, according to KNBC. "Since the moment I learned of Noah’s tragic death, I committed to hold all negligent parties accountable. I’ve ensured full transparency during this investigation."
Noah was pronounced dead on July 6 just months after he was transferred back to his parents's home. In an interview with KTLA earlier this year, Eva Hernandez, the boy's maternal great-grandmother, revealed that he was first removed from his mother's care when he was just a baby. The toddler then spent three months in and out of foster care before Hernandez took him in.
Six months later, a court ordered that Noah be returned to his parents. Following allegations of neglect, however, the 4-year-old was again placed in foster care and later transferred back to Hernandez. The great-grandmother told KTLA that, for the next two years, the child lived stably, but she acknowledged she constantly worried about Ursula's ability to care for him during the mother's visits.
"'Grandma,'" Hernandez recalled Noah telling her once. "'You can't let me go. You can't let me go.' He's looking at me, begging me not to let him go, and I had to let him go."
Last November, the toddler was sent back to his parents. In the subsequent months, Hernandez said her great-grandson's demeanor significantly changed. There were also multiple reports of abuse, with one account stating that Noah had visited the hospital with bruises on his back.
In May, a caseworker from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) filed a 26-page request to remove the boy from his parents's custody. By then, officials had already received at least 13 calls about suspected abuse at the Cuatros' home. Still, Noah was never returned to foster care.
In the aftermath of the child's death, Bobby Cagle, the director of DCFS, took responsibility for not removing Noah from his parents' home earlier.
"This death happened on my watch," he told the Board of Supervisors. "I fully accept the responsibility for the work that was done. I also fully accept the responsibility for understanding what went wrong, what we can do better and to implement that as quickly as possible."
Around that time, Hernandez's attorney Brian Claypool also called on police to prosecute Noah's parents, claiming that they had filed a false report. Now, the couple is facing a charge that's far more serious.
"We applaud the collaborative efforts of the L.A. County sheriff and L.A. County district attorney during this challenging investigation," Claypool said in a recent statement, according to the Los Angeles Times. "They have made it clear that those who abuse, neglect and kill innocent helpless children will be prosecuted to the fullest extent. But this is only one form of justice for Noah Cuatro. Department of Children and Family Services has blood on its hands and will also be held accountable in a federal lawsuit for deliberately disobeying a court-mandated removal order that would have saved Noah’s life."
Hernandez also addressed the media in a tearful statement on Thursday, after police announced the parents' arrest.
"I feel relief. I feel sad," she said. "Everything is so mixed up in my brain right now."