TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – The Taos County Sheriff’s Office arrested Heidi Velasquez and Adrian Vigil in March 2021 on accusations they abused their adopted son over a period of at least six months. Both parents are facing three child abuse charges. According to court documents, the abuse would have started just months after the boy was placed in their home. While their criminal case remains pending, documents obtained by KRQE News 13 show New Mexico’s Children, Youth & Families Department is allowing the couple unsupervised visits with the boy. An unsupervised overnight visit is also scheduled, according to the documents.
“It was a huge bomb to me, because it was a – it’s been an open wound, knowing that he left and there was nothing that we could do to have prevented it,” Audrena Apadaca said. She was the boy’s first foster Mom in Utah, where he was born.
“He laughed really early. That was really fun,” she shared. “He was able to laugh at a very – at a normal phase. That was something that he did very easily, and he was just so cheerful.”
The boy joined Apadaca’s family at just three weeks old in October 2018. The foster Mom said the boy had meth in his system at birth, so he was slightly delayed in his milestones. But, they got to watch the boy crawl, climb and even walk.
“We got to see his personality develop a lot,” Apadaca said. “And it was our hardest, it still is – still is the hardest kid that we’ve had to have had to let go of.” While her family wanted to adopt the boy, as a former caseworker in Utah, Apadaca says she understands the priority is placing a child with family members. She said Utah’s Child and Family Services tracked down his blood relatives – Velasquez and Vigil – in Taos County. The boy officially moved to New Mexico in June 2020.
“The one consolation of him leaving, we thought he was safe, we thought that there was a positive to it,” Apadaca said.
She was shocked to learn about the abuse the boy allegedly endured at the hands of the family who adopted him. The injuries hospitalized the boy when he was two-and-a-half years old.
“Even the most experienced and hardened investigator would be moved by this case,” Taos County Undersheriff Steve Miera said.
According to a criminal complaint, Vigil brought his adopted son to a Taos hospital after the boy “fell off the toilet again and got stiff and stopped breathing.” The investigator wrote Vigil complained the boy was having seizures, but “he and his wife had been avoiding taking [the boy] to any doctors because of COVID.” The investigator also added that the parents’ reasons for the boy’s injuries did not make sense with what the medical exams showed.
The child had to be moved from the hospital in Taos to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where doctors told police he was malnourished and suffered a head bleed. The boy also had multiple broken bones, scars all over his body, open sores on his buttocks and bruises under his fingernails. “It’s extremely egregious,” the Undersheriff added.
CYFD took custody of the boy. As of December 2022, the couple’s trial is set for April 2023. Their criminal case is not closed. But, KRQE News 13 obtained documents from a source showing the state agency has already let Velasquez and Vigil spend unsupervised time with him. The documents also reveal CYFD is allowing the parents to keep the boy overnight for a weekend.
“Absolutely, not,” Undersheriff Miera responded when KRQE News 13 shared information about the visits with him. “I don’t feel that that would be appropriate at this time, if at all.” He had no idea CYFD was already taking steps toward reunification.
“I’m not trying to overstep my boundaries,” he added. “However, to me what the priority here is, is the child’s safety. And at this point, when this case has yet to go to trial, this I don’t believe is an appropriate time for that child to be in, in that environment.”
Undersheriff Miera believes the boy is in danger. “Do you see him surviving being in their care again?” KRQE News 13 Investigative Reporter Ann Pierret asked. “I see a chance that I’m not willing to take,” the Undersheriff replied.
Court records also show the couple has actually been allowed contact with the boy since about a month after they were criminally charged. But, KRQE News 13 was told visits didn’t start until this year. 8th Judicial District Judge Emilio Chavez let CYFD make that call, saying as long as it is “therapeutic and recommended by CYFD, the court has no issue.”
“Our goal is to help the child and help that family heal,” CYFD’s Child Protective Services Director, Emily Martin said.
By law, CYFD said it could not comment on individual cases. But, the state agency agreed to an interview as long as KRQE News 13 only asked about general policies.
Martin explained, “Both state and federal law sets, sets the blueprint for, for us to follow as well as the courts.” The blueprint for abuse and neglect cases, she said, is a path to permanency for the child. In the majority of cases, Martin said that is reunifying the child with their accused abusers.
She confirmed that the process does play out simultaneously with the criminal case. “We want to work with the family immediately,” Martin explained. “…has to be through contact and that, but that doesn’t mean free reign, right?”
She said reunification is a long process and can be slowed or stopped at any point to ensure the child’s safety. Martin would not answer if it could be completed before the criminal case was closed. But, she did share how the accused can earn unsupervised time with the child. “It’s based on the behavioral changes that are seen, not only by CYFD but the mental health, behavioral health professionals, and the court,” Martin said.
But despite changed behavior, the family member accused of abuse still has to answer for their alleged crimes. So KRQE News 13 asked why not wait until they are found not guilty? “It’s different for every child and every family, and we have to assess that,” Martin replied.
Undersheriff Miera wants increased and improved communication from CYFD. Believing the boy is in danger, he made it clear law enforcement has the power to step in, and he is already planning to speak with the Taos County District Attorney about intervening. The Undersheriff says he never expected the boy to be returned to Velasquez and Vigil. “I would hope that they received the max allowable sentence,” he said.
Apadaca is hopeful Velasquez and Vigil will be held accountable and that her former foster son will be kept safe. “He deserves better. He is a wonderful little boy who is so, so bright and has so many opportunities,” she said.
CYFD pointed out that the state agency helps hundreds of families reunify each year with “great outcomes.” And while the agency loses jurisdiction once that happens, Martin said families can voluntarily take advantage of support for up to six months after their case closes.