Phoenix couple accused of concealing dead body for years

PHOENIX (AP) — A Phoenix couple accused of abusing three adopted children who have been removed from their custody allegedly concealed the dead body of another foster child in an attic for over two years, prosecutors said Monday.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office filed a direct complaint charging both Rafael Loera, 56, and Maribel Loera, 50, with child abuse, abandonment or concealment of a dead body and arson of an occupied structure.

Skeletal remains were found Jan. 28 at the house by firefighters after smoke was seen coming from the family’s home and the bones were later determined to be from a juvenile.

Hours before the fire, investigators from the Arizona Department of Child Safety had removed a 9-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl from the home over child abuse allegations.

Child welfare authorities began an investigation Jan. 20 when an 11-year-old girl called police to report she was home alone for two days and was hungry and scared. The girl was removed from the home, but no other children were there at the time.

In court documents released Monday, county prosecutors said Rafael Loera, who was asked by investigators last month about an 11-year-old foster girl in the couple’s care who had not seen or heard from 2017, said he falsely told authorities that the girl moved to Mexico before admitting that she was dead.

He said the child got sick in July 2017 but was not taken to a hospital for several days and later died, according to the compliant.

Rafael Loera said the body was wrapped in a sheet and placed in the attic, according to the compliant, and he and his wife didn’t report the death to authorities because a forensic autopsy would likely show abuse injuries on the child.

The compliant said Rafael Loera moved the body to the home’s backyard, siphoned gasoline from his van and set the house on fire because he was feeling hopeless and suicidal.

He also said his wife was the one who abused the children — hitting them with a broom handle and electrical cord — but he never reported it to police over fear of Maribel Loera hurting him.

Alan Tavassoli, a court-appointed attorney for the couple, didn’t immediately return a call Monday seeking comment on the case.