After officers arrested Alyssa Garcia following a call about an arson in an abandoned Englewood house, she allegedly told them, “What if something bad happened, and you didn’t mean for it to happen?”
Something bad did happen to Garcia’s 4-year-old son.
Bad things had been happening to him for much of Manuel “Manny” Aguilar’s short life, Cook County prosecutors said on Thursday.
His malnourished, partially burned body was found by firefighters covered in a charred, blue blanket inside the vacant home where Garcia, her 17-year-old lover and his older brother were seen entering moments before with a container of lighter fluid on Tuesday night, authorities said.
Manuel was so tiny, investigators first mistook him for a 9-month-old baby, Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Santini told Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil.
The firefighters who came upon the small fire in the basement of the two-story house also saw the can of lighter of fluid next to the boy’s body.
A naked Manuel had been discovered dead days before on July 29 in the stench-filled backroom where his mother kept him in home she shared with her children, her boyfriend and and the boyfriend’s brother, Christian Camarena, in the 6400 block of South Wolcott, authorities said. It was the same room where she stored the family bicycles, authorities said.
Manuel had been kept in the back room for about a year, a place stained with his feces and urine. He wasn’t given any clothes to wear because he would urinate on himself.
Manuel would have to knock to be let out to go to the bathroom, and if he couldn’t make it, he would hide his feces, fearing his mother would beat him, authorities said.
And beat him she did, prosecutors alleged, giving him a black eye once or hitting on his back with a shoe or slapping him in the mouth for screaming, prosecutors alleged.
“Let me out,” the boy would cry from inside the room.
When she found her son naked and not breathing, Garcia, 27, had one of her other five children check Manuel’s heartbeat and pulse, Santini said. Garcia, who gave birth to premature twins a week ago, later told police she tried to resuscitate Manuel by putting his lifeless body in the shower, Santini said.
Fearing that officials with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services would take her other children away, Garcia and her boyfriend washed Manuel’s body, put clothes on him and wrapped him in the towel, Santini said.
Eventually, the couple transferred Manuel’s body into the trunk of a car, Santini said.
Passersby noticed a bad smell coming from the car and soon, Garcia put tree air fresheners all over and sprayed it. But the smell lingered.
When Garcia was finally ready to dispose of the body, she sent her children to family while she, her boyfriend and Camarena, 19, drove a mile away to the abandoned home, in the 1400 block of West Marquette, Santini said.
Garcia, who had been working at an Olive Garden and appeared in court Thursday in an oversized flannel shirt and dark baggy jeans, was arrested shortly after she was seen running away from the home, Santini said.
Camarena and his brother were nabbed behind the building.
Santini said Garcia admitted what she did in a video-recorded statement and said she didn’t seek medical attention for Manuel or call police because she didn’t want to get DCFS involved.
Garcia was ordered held in lieu of $2 million bail on charges of attempted arson and concealment of a death.
Camarena was given $1 million bail. His younger brother was also ordered held in custody on the same charges by a Juvenile Court judge, according to a spokeswoman with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Four years ago, state child protective workers took custody of Manuel because of neglect, officials said.
But the boy was returned in 2015 to Garica after she complied with terms that included attending parenting classes, a DCFS spokeswoman said.
Prosecutors also said in bond court Thursday that Garcia had been previously charged with endangerment of a child, after authorities found another of her little boys knocking on a door, looking for his mother. That discovery led authorities to a car with more of Garcia’s children. She was away, apparently visiting a boyfriend, authorities said. Garcia received 18 months supervision in that case in 2012.
The manner and cause of the Manuel’s death were still under investigation following an autopsy.
DCFS spokeswoman, Veronica Resa, said Manuel’s death has triggered an investigation for “allegations of abuse and neglect.” Garcia’s week-old twins are currently in a hospital for “monitoring.”
In addition to her twins, Garcia’s other children are 6, 8, and 10, an assistant public defender said.
One of Garcia’s neighbors, who lived with her own five children in the apartment below Garcia for around a year, said she had seen Manny perhaps a half-dozen times.“I asked her would she let me take them with me to the beach,” the woman, who declined to be identified. “I took (Manuel’s) clothes off so he could go in the water, and he was all ribs.”Garcia and the children were gone from the house for the last week, and the neighbor said she only learned what happened to Manuel last night.“It hurts me, because if she needed any help, she could have come to me,” the woman said, sobbing. “For something like that, she deserves to be where she at.”
Contributing: Jordan Owen, Ashlee Rezin