As her infant daughter lay in a hospital bed, brain-dead and on life support, Angela Petrov revealed to the medical staff a family history steeped in child abuse and murder.
Six years earlier, she said, her half sister fatally beat her 5-year-old daughter. The child had been tortured and forced to drink from a toilet. Another child of the half sister died under what were described as suspicious circumstances.
Petrov, 21, and her boyfriend now face murder charges in the April suffocation of their baby, Angelina, in Chicago's West Ridge neighborhood.
Some officials have expressed concern that the state agency charged with protecting children should have paid more attention to the family's troubled history.
Hundreds of pages of state documents reviewed by the Tribune show the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services repeatedly investigated several members of Petrov's large extended family as far back as the mid-1980s.
DCFS officials said they lacked evidence to intervene sooner in the case of Petrov's 5-month-old baby and could not act based solely on her half sister's history, but others argue that warning signs were missed.
They question whether officials properly investigated a Jan. 29 hotline call that alleged her boyfriend, Rigoberto "Rico" Rodriguez, abused one of the baby's older brothers, who had suffered a fractured collarbone months earlier and had fresh marks resembling rope burns.
The state agency cleared Rodriguez of wrongdoing in that inquiry, records state. Rodriguez, 29, whom DCFS investigated in 2008 after another of his children was injured, has more than a half-dozen arrests on domestic battery charges, according to records.
"There was enough evidence of abuse and neglect — the bruises, broken clavicle, rope burns, along with the family background," Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris said of the hotline call investigation.
"They could have been more critical in terms of how they looked at the facts in this case."
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart agreed that the family's history should have been considered.
"When you look at the totality of everything else going on here, one would hope" the slaying of the child of Petrov's half sister "would definitely be a factor they looked at," he said.
DCFS has placed Petrov's two other children in a foster home outside the family.
The sisters' father, Grile Petrov, wants the two boys to stay with relatives and argues his family is being treated unfairly as a consequence of the earlier homicide.
"That's why they're looking at us like we're all murderers," he told the Tribune. "They're putting everything on us."
'There are secrets'
The details of the March 2007 death of the 5-year-old daughter of Petrov's half sister, Mila, continue to scar the memories of law enforcement officials involved in the case.
Paramedics found the nearly lifeless, battered body of Melanie Beltran on her family's living room floor in its two-bedroom apartment near Des Plaines. The child weighed just 28 pounds. In the days that followed, officials interviewed her siblings.
"There are secrets in the house," one child said, according to state records. "We don't tell."
The children said Melanie was singled out and routinely tied up, struck and burned with cigarettes, and was forced to eat hot peppers and drink out of a toilet throughout what Dart called a "short life of hell."
Mila Petrov delivered her ninth child the day Melanie was removed from life support. The mother pleaded guilty to fatally beating her daughter and was sentenced to 39 years in prison. The father, Carlos Beltran, 37, is serving 20 years for aggravated battery of a child.
A DCFS investigative report documents frequent involvement with the Petrov family dating to 1985. Although the agency found credible allegations of such issues as educational and medical neglect, the family often moved before workers could track members down, according to the report.
Mila Petrov had lost another child years earlier. In 1995, a baby named Anita died of unknown causes. Family members said the baby died of sudden infant death syndrome, but her mother alleged that Anita was thrown during an argument, according to state records.
Neither parent was charged with wrongdoing in the baby's death.
It's been six years since Melanie died, but her life resonates still. Dart said he keeps a black-and-white drawing of her behind his desk. He had a police sketch artist prepare a likeness of the brown-eyed, raven-haired girl.
Various fundraisers and scholarships have been established in her honor.
"The case was very difficult for everyone involved," Dart said. "We still talk about it and remember her."
So last month, when news hit that another woman named Petrov was accused of killing her child, Dart and Harris said they wondered: Could it be the same family?
Another child's death
Angela Petrov called 911 on April 11 after she said she found Angelina unresponsive in the apartment she shared with Rodriguez and two sons, ages 6 and 2.
The couple initially denied harming their baby, according to court records. But police said the woman's oldest son told them Rodriguez "covered the baby's mouth, and my mom sat in the chair and did nothing," records state.
Doctors said Angelina suffered brain swelling and noted that she had a skull fracture from a previous injury. She died April 15.
Prosecutors upgraded charges to first-degree murder days later.
Authorities said the couple eventually told them they had been drinking alcohol in the room where the baby was sleeping when the girl started crying. Rodriguez, authorities said, admitted covering the baby's mouth three times to muffle her cries.
Angela Petrov said she did not try to stop him, court records state.
The baby's death came less than a month after the parents had been under DCFS investigation. The agency received the January hotline call after the 6-year-old boy became ill at school but said he was too afraid to go home, according to records.
A day earlier he came to school with marks, some of which appeared to be rope burns, on his face, neck and arms, according to records.
Days before that, as the boy colored with a red crayon, he told his teacher his drawing was of the "blood" that his mother made him clean off a wall in their home, the records said.
When questioned about her son's earlier injury and the allegations, authorities said, Angela Petrov told them it was an accidental collarbone fracture that occurred when a "husky" older boy fell on him.
She accused her son of "making up stories," the records state.
DCFS and police cleared the couple of wrongdoing in the January incident.
Nearly five years earlier, in August 2008, DCFS found credible evidence of medical neglect against Rodriguez for the burn suffered by a 1-year-old son he fathered with another woman, according to agency records. Rodriguez was not criminally charged.
Rodriguez's criminal record includes two convictions, for domestic battery and for resisting arrest. According to court records, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder but had stopped taking his medication.
Angela Petrov said she dropped out of eighth grade after becoming pregnant with her first child. She does not have a criminal history.
During a recent court appearance, Petrov sobbed as prosecutors announced charges were upgraded to murder.
Her attorney, Marijane Placek, an assistant Cook County public defender, said "her crime was one of omission at best, not commission."
Grile Petrov said he supports Angela, whom he portrayed as an abused woman too afraid to stop her boyfriend.
The Chicago man said he long ago cut ties with his imprisoned daughter, Mila, now 35.
"I didn't have contact with her for 10 years," he said.
The recent death of Angela Petrov's baby triggered an automatic internal investigation by DCFS of how its workers handled the case.
A child-death review panel that includes doctors, police, prosecutors and other child welfare experts will study the case and could make recommendations.
DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin said the agency did not know about the 2012 collarbone injury until it came up as part of the investigation into the Jan. 29 hotline call. Clarkin said he did not know if the investigator knew about the Mila Petrov murder case.
He noted that DCFS could not legally have taken custody of Angela Petrov's children sooner based just on what her half sister did.
"At the end of the day," Clarkin said, "the actions of DCFS have to be within the law and backed up by the courts."
Tribune reporter Jason Meisner contributed.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times