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Tucson Toddler's Remains Found in Toy Chest

Tucson Toddler's Remains Found in Toy Chest
Raquel and Martin Barreras
Tucson Police Dept

03/07/2014 AT 03:00 PM EST

A landlord in Tucson removing property abandoned by an evicted family made a gruesome discovery this week: the skeletal remains of a 3-year-old boy stuffed inside a blue toy chest.

As reported by the Arizona Star, police say Roman Barreras's mother, Raquel Barreras, 39, allegedly starved the boy, made him live behind the house in a tiny room, and after his death, disposed of his remains in that room, in a toy chest that she didn't bother to take when the family moved.

The discovery has shocked relatives, neighbors and the police.

"For a young child, one of the most innocents in our community, how anyone can do that to someone is very difficult for anyone to understand," Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor told reporters at a press conference Wednesday, a day after the discovery.

Raquel Barreras has been charged with murder. Both she and the boy's father, Martin Barreras, 45, are also charged with child abuse.

Villaseñor said police officers had been to the house before, mostly responding to truancy complaints about the family's other children: a 12-year-old son and three daughters ages 19, 7 and 4. He said that, during those visits, there were no outward signs of the children being abused.

At a press conference held by a local group, Homicide Survivors, relatives expressed their grief.

Tucson Toddler's Remains Found in Toy Chest| Child Abuse, Crime & Courts, Murder, True Crime, Real People Stories

The house in Tucson

"Roman was a beautiful baby boy, he had a lot to live for," said Raquel Barreras's niece, Erica Ortiz, reports Tucson's KVOA4 TV. "We're asking you to pray for him while we are trying to get through this. Just remember him as a beautiful baby boy."

"The Barrerases are in shock," added Martin Barreras's cousin, Oscar Romero. "To find out one of their own has been taken from us, especially a child, is the worst nightmare. I don't know what caused this. Some of us are asking the question, and we want to know and find out the truth."

The relatives, who say the parents were very secretive and moved often, added that they called protective services for help.

A spokeswoman for the state's Division of Child Safety and Family Services confirmed to the Star that caseworkers had contact with the Barreras family, with the last involvement in August 2012. More information was not immediately available, said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Bowser.

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