According to multiple sources familiar with the family, Mauricio and Cathy Torres, the Bella Vista couple arrested earlier this month for the rape and murder of their 6-year-old child, had at least five other children removed from their custody by a Jonesboro court in 2004 or 2005.
It was previously known that Isaiah Torres, the boy who died in his parents’ care on March 29, 2015, had two young sisters, and that the Department of Human Services had investigated two allegations of child maltreatment against Mauricio and Cathy in early 2014. Those reports were found unsubstantiated by DHS caseworkers at the time. DHS also disclosed last week that there had been at least two prior maltreatment cases regarding the family in 2002 and 2004. Isaiah and his two sisters would not have been born at that time, indicating that there were other children in the care of the Torres family when those incidents occurred.
Indeed, multiple individuals have now told the Arkansas Times that Mauricio and Cathy had at least five children in their care in the early 2000s, at which point they were living in Jonesboro. Four were Cathy’s children (by two other fathers), and one was a natural child of Cathy and Mauricio. There also may have been a sixth child, according to one account.
As with all things related to child welfare, the exact facts are shrouded in confidentiality requirements; few records are public when it comes to child maltreatment investigations.
The five (or six) children were adopted by other families in the Jonesboro area following the termination of the couple’s parental rights in 2004 or 2005. That was shortly after the Jonesboro Police Department investigated Mauricio — who then went by the name Maurice — on allegations of rape of a 4-year-old girl. The girl was Mauricio’s stepdaughter — that is, one of Cathy’s children by a different man. Incident reports from the Jonesboro PD indicate that criminal charges against Mauricio were never pursued by the local prosecutor’s office, despite the fact that a judge evidently found enough evidence to involuntarily terminate parental rights on five children. “[The prosecutor’s office] had reviewed the case very closely but, that their [sic] was insufficient evidence to proceed with issuing a warrant in regards to the case,” wrote a Jonesboro detective.
Thurman Thompson is married to a sister of Cathy Torres and lives in Jonesboro today. Cathy “lived there all of her life, until she disappeared … about ten years ago,” he said.
“Basically, they had their parental rights taken away for the other children,” he said. And then, “they disappeared. We knew where the children [in Jonesboro] were, so we knew that they were cared for, but we had no idea where Cathy and Maurice had went. And we had not been contacted by them, nor had we tried to contact them, for over ten years.” And then came news of the murder of Isaiah. The authorities contacted Cathy’s mother and she in turn contacted the Thompsons, who took responsibility for collecting Isaiah’s remains. Prior to that, Thompson stated, “we didn’t know any [other] kids existed.”
That account was corroborated by Maurice Torres, a 19-year-old son of Mauricio from another marriage prior to his meeting Cathy. Maurice said that his father moved to Jonesboro from California around 2002, along with himself, his sister and their mother (Mauricio’s first wife). They soon split up, and Mauricio then married Cathy. Maurice and his sister were left with their mother, but prior to their father’s departure, he said that they both also suffered physical abuse at the hands of Mauricio Torres.
“They never looked into it while we were living in the house,” Maurice said. “But when he first showed up in court about Cathy’s little girl, things started coming to light about me and [my sister]. … Yeah. There’s so much that could have been done, it’s unreal. … But as far as I can tell, he was able to talk his way out of everything.” He said that he believes authorities were more inclined to believe his father because he was an occupational therapist who worked with children.
“They see a man who went to school to help kids — why would he try to hurt kids?” he said. As of today, Mauricio Torres’ occupational therapist license is still listed as “active” at his home address in Bella Vista:
Maurice blames DHS for not doing more to prevent Isaiah’s death. “If they actually did their job and followed up like they should, this could have been prevented. I mean, they had their parental rights taken away before Isaiah was even born, you know? Why was he able to get him?”
Amy Webb, a spokesperson for DHS, said that a past termination of parental rights “is definitely something that raises flags” but added that “just because there’s a prior history doesn’t always mean we should take those kids into care.”
“There’s no automatics,” said Cecile Blucker, director of the Division of Children and Family Services at DHS. She gave the example of a hypothetical 19-year-old girl who has her parental rights terminated for whatever reason. “She’s young, she’s at a difficult stage in her life … then, 10 years later, she has another baby, but her lifestyle is totally different. … we wouldn’t want to automatically go in and remove [the baby]. People do change, and that’s why our goal with all children is reunification. It is only very rarely that we do fast track, automatic termination of parental rights, and those are the most egregious of cases.
“And there needs to be a court record that shows what all you’ve done to try to help this family get it together before a judge is going to terminate rights — because every parent has a right to have that decision appealed. So, you want the record to be strong enough that if they do appeal that the finding of the judge is upheld and not overturned.”
But the DHS officials also seemed to acknowledge that with the Torres case at least — which has now undergone an internal review within the agency — something was missing from the 2014 maltreatment investigation.
“In this particular case, we did not have a complete picture of pertinent previous investigations at the time of the allegation in 2014,” Webb said. She said that DHS attorneys have said the agency cannot be more specific, although Blucker did add that, “over a span of time, people could have divorced, remarried, so you’ve got different names, you’ve got different spellings of names … there’s all kinds of different things that could complicate putting all the big picture together.”
Webb said that DHS is looking at several policy changes as a result of the review of the Torres case, including additional staff training on performing searches within the DHS data system, changes to the data system itself and requiring local offices to keep unsubstantiated reports for a longer period of time. Currently, Blucker said, hard copies of documents pertaining to unsubstantiated reports of maltreatment are shredded after 30 days.
Thompson, the brother-in-law of Cathy Torres, said he believes DHS should have known about the abuse: “They should have known. If they’d done their job, in the least little bit, they would have known.”
“We thought that DHS, if they did have any more children, would take them,” he said. “We want people in Northwest Arkansas to know that Cathy was not representing our family. … We were not just sitting back and letting this take place. We had no idea.”
Thompson and his wife, who have three children of their own ranging from age 16 to 25, are now seeking custody of Isaiah’s young sisters, whose existence they learned of only in the past couple weeks. “We immediately went to DHS and got approved for foster care, as soon as we got the news.”
Blucker said that placement of children in such a case as this one must go through a process to ensure the safety of the children, including a thorough assessment of appropriate placement and, in some jurisdictions, court action.
This post has been updated substantially since its original publication.