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Tucson toddler's remains found in backyard toy chest; parents charged

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Cleaners at a vacant home in Tucson found the skeletal remains of a 3-year-old boy in a backyard toy chest, leading to the arrest of the toddler’s parents this week.

Martin Raymond Barreras, 45, and Raquel Marcela Barreras, 39, were both charged with child abuse and the mother faces a first-degree murder charge. They were being held in Pima County Jail.  

The couple recently had been evicted from the house where the remains were found, Tucson police said. The landlords were cleaning up the messy backyard on Tuesday afternoon when they found the remains of a small child in a blue toy chest, police said. The chest was in a structure attached to the outside of the house.

The couple has four other children, three of whom were taken into state custody because they are minors, police said. The surviving children include a 19-year old daughter, a 12-year old son, a 7-year old daughter and a 4-year old daughter. They had suffered from neglect, but not abuse, police said.

The children told investigators that "Raquel starved the child until death and put the child in a toy chest in the backyard," according to a court filing.

Authorities had responded to the old home several times because the older children had not been showing up to school, Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said at a Wednesday news conference. The children had been taken away by authorities before, but were later returned to the parents.

The parents were arrested at a home about 1.5 miles away from their old residence near the Tucson International Airport.

"How anyone can do that to someone is difficult for any of us to understand," the police chief said Wednesday.

Family members said Thursday that the couple kept to themselves and that they had not seen couple's youngest child, Roman Barreras, in at least a year, according to media reports.

At Thursday's televised press conference, Raquel Barreras' niece, Erica Ortiz, called Roman "a beautiful baby boy" and asked people to remember him that way. Another family member said the situation was a "nightmare."

Raquel Barreras was also booked Wednesday on an outstanding arrest warrant. It came from a 2012 criminal case in which she failed to appear in court on a charge of driving with a suspended, canceled or revoked license, according to court and jail records. She is due in court Friday for that matter.

#NEW: Pics of 3-year-old Roman Barreras released by extended family. His skeletal remains were found in a toy chest. pic.twitter.com/zc4AoBuVT1

— Maria Hechanova (@MariaHechanova) March 6, 2014

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