AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — A 2-year-old boy was killed last week from blunt force injuries while staying at his adult sister’s house in east Austin. His sister and her boyfriend are accused of trying to cover it up.
Austin police officers were called to the 6400 of Springdale Road — just south of Manor Road — at 3:11 p.m. on Saturday, June 2 for the report of a child who was eating and then stopped breathing.
The 911 caller said the 2-year-old boy, identified by Austin police as Noel Leal, was cold and not awake. Court documents show the caller said they were unable to open the baby’s mouth to perform CPR.
Arriving police officers said they found the toddler “obviously deceased” with full rigor mortis, or stiffening of the body.
Police found the boy’s hair wet, fresh injuries on the left side of his face, a healing injury on his lower leg and vomit on the toddler’s clothes.
The boy’s mother told police she had taken the victim to her adult daughter’s house the day before and that her son had not been sick or had any injuries.
The boy’s 22-year-old sister Selissa Flores said she gave the victim Tylenol and chicken soup after he woke up saying he didn’t feel well.
Flores told police the boy appeared to have trouble eating a fry, his eyes rolled back and he fell back on the couch. Flores said she laid her brother down and called 911.
An exam of the victim showed the boy had severe damage to his body caused by blunt force injuries, including a skull fracture, bruising on his face, groin and back and deep blood loss in his armpits.
The manner of death was ruled a homicide.
Flores’ boyfriend, 25-year-old Miguel Berumen-Zepeda, told police when he arrived at the house around 2 p.m. he was in the bathroom for several minutes when he heard a commotion that the 2-year-old was not breathing. He told investigators he then started CPR on the boy.
On Tuesday, June 5, police interviewed Flores again. She said she woke up at 6 a.m. that Saturday and found the boy dead in the back corner of the bedroom.
Flores, who claimed she was asleep and didn’t know what happened to her brother, admitted to police that her boyfriend told her not to say anything.
Later in the day, Flores said she used baby wipes to clean up her brother’s body and changed his clothes, then called 911 claiming he was choking. Police say the 911 call wasn’t made until nine hours after Flores found her brother at 6 a.m. She also admitted to deleting text messages from her phone.
Also on Tuesday, police interviewed a juvenile witness about what happened who said Berumen-Zepeda had a hatred toward the 2-year-old boy.
The witness said he saw his sister’s boyfriend hit the victim once on Friday night because the boy was crying. He heard the toddler crying and then a few minutes later Berumen-Zepeda came out of the room and went to sleep. He saw that the toddler was dead in the bedroom.
Berumen-Zepeda was booked into the Travis County Jail on Thursday and charged with tampering with physical evidence. His bond has been set at $100,000. Flores was also booked into the jail Thursday also on a charge of tampering with physical evidence. Her bond has been set at $75,000.
Detectives say the toddler’s mother was cooperative. “She wanted to find out the truth. And even though Selissa is her daughter, she cooperated fully with the investigation,” said Lt. Jason Staniszewski.
Authorities believe the toddler had received injuries in the past, which Berumen-Zepeda admitted to.
Anyone with information on the death is asked to call the Homicide Tip Line at 512-477-3588 or Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS.
Family members want justice
“All I have now is nothing but memories,” said Noel’s father Daniel Leal, “nothing but memories.”
He’s one of those parents who won’t end a conversation without showing you pictures.
“One thing that keeps me going is [believing] I’m not a failure. All the support I’ve been getting from friends, family to be strong,” he said.
Grandma Edna Martinez and Uncle “Mando” Ramirez said this is when the importance of family shines through.
“Our family loved him just as much. He had a bright future ahead of him. It just got cut short,” said Ramirez.
The toddler’s family says they will still want the entire story from police and Child Protective Services. They also want justice and a capital murder charge filed against Berumen-Zepeda.
A look at child welfare
As a previous caseworker for the Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) and now, the government relations director for the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Will Francis spends his days advocating for the well-being of social workers and child welfare.
“The reality is the best parent in the world can get mad and angry at their kid and may have to put down their kid and walk away and take a breath and come back and that’s the very best parent,” said Francis. “Those who don’t necessarily have those same skills or who haven’t really addressed maybe some of their anger issues or other behavioral issues are going to find it even more challenging.”
When it comes to the Noel Leal’s case, Francis is not surprised to find out who’s behind this crime.
“The bad boyfriend is sort of a stereotype that holds true in a lot of these cases and it’s often because the boyfriend is young and doesn’t have a lot of experience with young children and doesn’t understand that a child who is crying may need food, maybe it’s a change of diaper or its attention and they get frustrated because they don’t know what they need and they often act out. And, part of the way they act out is with violence,” said Francis.
The child’s family says Flores was always helping out and babysitting her little brother.
CPS says it had a history with the toddler’s mother, but the department was unaware the child was in any danger.
Francis adds tracking people that come in and out of a family’s life is not always the easiest thing to do.
“You get a bigger instruction manual with your new car than you do with your new kid,” said Francis.
Francis says parents need to pay attention to those around them because they can quickly discover whether or not they are suitable to be around their children.
“You’ll often see moms overlook qualities in men that they shouldn’t overlook because they want that connection, they want a relationship of their own,” he said. “I think helping them understanding you have to be looking at how they react around your child, you have to be looking at how they act when they get angry, do they know how to feed a child, or change a child? And, if they’re not willing to learn these things then you should not be alone with a child.”
The child’s family is now left to wonder why neither the sister or the boyfriend reached out for help.
“If they really didn’t want to watch him, all they had to do was let us have him,” said Ramirez. “All we can do is pray and hold our faith and stay strong for the family and for Nono.”