BY GRETCHEN WENNER, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A 3-year-old girl was found dead Sunday morning and her 4-year-old brother was found sleeping alone after a couple fled a southwest Bakersfield home with three other children, police say.
The girl's body showed signs of visible trauma and her death is considered suspicious, officials say. The abandoned boy wasn't hurt and he was taken into protective custody. Neither child's name was released. An autopsy will determine the girl's cause of death.
Officials want the public's help finding the adults, Alberto "Albert" Garcia, 26, and Carla Garcia, 26, whose last name was Torres before the couple's marriage earlier this year.
Neighbors who live next door to the Garcias' rented home in the 5900 block of Summer Country Drive, southeast of Harris and Ashe roads, described the couple as seemingly loving, stable parents and said they were shocked by the events unfolding Sunday.
Albert Garcia was the uncle of the 3- and 4-year-old, who had reportedly been in the couple's foster care. Neighbors said the Garcias recently adopted the children and had legally changed their names, though police were unable to confirm Sunday whether the adoption had been completed.
Officials were mostly tight-lipped about the details of their investigation, declining to describe the girl's injuries or say where in the home she was found dead.
Authorities were called around 9 a.m. Sunday by Carla Garcia's sister, said Bakersfield Police Sgt. Mary DeGeare, after Carla had phoned the sister to tell her to go to the house. The Garcias left "sometime during the night," DeGeare said.
The couple took three children with them, police say: Carlos Solvalvarro, 10, Carla's son from a previous marriage whose last name was spelled Sobalvarro in an online court filing; and the couple's children, Crystal Garcia, 5, and Alberto Garcia Jr., 4
Their home was cordoned off by yellow crime-scene tape Sunday as police investigators came and went. A purple-and-white car advertising Carla's House Keeping was parked in the driveway with other vehicles. The open garage door revealed a cluster of children's bicycles stashed in one corner.
Neighbors say Albert Garcia was an unemployed mechanic and Carla was the breadwinner with her housekeeping business.
Next-door neighbor Patty Clemons said she came home early from her driving instructor job Sunday afternoon because she kept crying. Clemons said she was in shock and had to believe "it was an accidental thing" the girl died.
"Everything they did was for the kids," Clemons said of the Garcias, who have lived next door for about a year.
The family ate homemade dinners together every night, she said, and Albert Garcia took the children on walks and wagon rides.
Clemons and her husband gave the Garcias a $50 gift certificate to Logan's Roadhouse as a wedding gift specifically so they could get some rare time alone. But the Garcias took the kids with them anyway, she said.
Their children were smiling and happy, Clemons said, and she never saw bruises or other telltale marks. Albert Garcia talked to Clemons' husband, also an unemployed mechanic, almost every day.
Clemons' son, Greg Reafsnyder, said the Garcias were always nice and theirs was a "very routine house." He only saw Albert Garcia drink once, at the wedding reception the Garcias held in their backyard.
"It seems out of character," Reafsnyder said of the couple's reported actions.
Reafsnyder said although he regularly saw the Garcias' children playing outside, he didn't often see the 3-year-old and figured she was shy.
Officials say the Garcias left in a white 1997 Ford Expedition with California license plate 5FLC681. The SUV had an Eddie Bauer package and 17-inch rims. Police notified law enforcement agencies around the state as well as border officials, said DeGeare, the police sergeant.
The situation is "just short of an AMBER Alert," DeGeare said. Since the children are the couple's own, the incident isn't considered an abduction and doesn't qualify for AMBER Alert status, she said.
Police want the Garcias on suspicion of felony child endangerment and for questioning in the death of the 3-year-old. They also want to check the welfare of the three children with them.
If you have any information, please call the Bakersfield Police Department at 327-7111.