The arrest of a Willimantic couple in connection with the beating and death of a 3-year-old in their care has raised questions about the way signs of child abuse are reported by hospitals and communicated to other child-welfare agencies.
A recently released arrest warrant affidavit prepared for the arrest of the 3-year-old’s mother, Rosa Gladis Diaz-Mendez, reveals a pattern of abuse at the hands of Diaz’s boyfriend, Fredy Chingo Riz.
Despite frequent interactions with doctors, school officials and advocates from the Department of Children and Families, reports show the abuse was hidden for months before a final beating took the girl’s life, police say.
Athena Angeles, 3, died Nov. 23 at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center after she was admitted to Windham Hospital unresponsive earlier in the evening. An autopsy revealed the child died of “blunt traumatic chest and abdominal injuries.”
Numerous bruises also were found on her body, including on her torso, face and the tops of her ears. Internally, the child had blood in her abdominal cavity, two lacerations to her liver and kidney injuries. She also had rib fractures, according to the report.
In the wake of the arrests, state DCF Commissioner Joette Katz publicly stated that her agency was looking at ways to improve the way injuries are assessed when children show up in a medical setting.
Heather Tindell, spokeswoman for Windham Hospital, issued a written statement, saying the hospital has teamed with DCF and representatives from other hospitals to develop better clinical guidelines and best practices for at-risk children who visit emergency rooms.
“Clearly we are troubled by this tragic incident, which has motivated us to improve and develop a better process to identify and protect children who are at risk of abuse,” he said.
Records indicate Chingo Riz, 24, and Diaz, 25, are in the country illegally.
For almost a year leading up to her death, police said the girl had visits from the Department of Children and Families, an advocate with the Windham Early Childhood Center and interactions with school officials, doctors at Generations Family Health Care Center and Windham Hospital.
The visits surrounded Athena’s frequent bruising and excuses given by Diaz that she must bruise easily.
Chingo was arrested a day after the child died and admitted punching the girl on multiple occasions when he lost his patience.
On another occasion, Athena was not eating. Out of frustration, Chingo Riz admitted punching her in the stomach “causing her to fall backwards, striking the back of her head against the edge of the bathroom sink,” according to the arrest warrant affidavit. He cleaned the wound and put her to bed.
On Nov. 23, the night of her death, police said Athena was not eating. Chingo Riz punched her in the stomach and then later, when she pretended to eat, “this again bothered him,” according to the affidavit.
“Fredy stated he grabbed Athena by the arm again, lifted her up and punched her with his right fist in the ribcage area,” according to the arrest affidavit.
Chingo Riz remains held on $1.5 million bond. Diaz is held on a $500,000 bond. Both are charged with first-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault, among other charges.
Diaz is due to appear July 13 in Danielson Superior Court and has yet to enter a plea.