PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia couple faces murder charges in the starvation death of their disabled 3-year-old girl, a case with harrowing echoes in a city where a series of children have suffered the same slow, agonizing death.
Twin Nathalyz (NAT'-uh-leez) Rivera weighed just 11 pounds when she died Monday. Although she had severe disabilities, she had not seen a doctor in more than a year, and was apparently not on the radar of social services.
Carlos Rivera, 30, and his wife Carmen Ramirez, 27, were charged Tuesday with third-degree murder. They have four other children, who were placed in protective custody. Neither parent immediately had a lawyer listed in court records, and attempts to reach relatives proved unsuccessful.
"The fact you can have a child that literally starved to death in the city of Philadelphia is abysmal," said Dr. Rachel P. Berger, chief of the division of child advocacy at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, who is not involved in the case.
"The real question is, as a society, how did we fail this child? Who saw this child, outside of the family or even within the family?"
Police did not disclose Nathalyz's specific health issues, although Ramirez told police that her daughter was born blind and had Down's Syndrome, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The family last had contact with the Department of Human Services in 2008, before she was born.
They lived in a rented row home on a neatly kept block of mostly retirees. Police said the home was in deplorable condition, infested with insects and rodents that they suspect caused some of the bruising on the girl's body.
Neighbors told reporters this week that they rarely saw the family, although others said they saw the children — but not Nathalyz — playing outside while the mother watched them or Rivera worked on cars. He has prior arrests for assault, endangerment and threatening behavior, although many of the charges were ultimately dropped.
According to police, Rivera found his youngest daughter unresponsive at about midnight Sunday, and called the girl's mother rather than 911. Ramirez came and went from the house, and arrived with a male friend to take Nathalyz to the hospital.
It was nearly 2 a.m. when the girl was pronounced dead, although Homicide Capt. James Clark believes she was dead when Rivera found her. Clark called the autopsy photos among the most disturbing he has seen on the job.
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