NEW ALBANY – Five years ago, Janet and Ramon Barreto decided they wanted a son.
They looked on the Internet for adoptable children, much like they sold the Yorkies or Maltese dogs they raised in filthy wire cages behind their doublewide trailer home outside New Albany.
Eventually, they adopted seven from Guatemala, although few of their neighbors knew anything about it.
But on May 19, 2008, their secret world and cloistered family came under investigation by local and state authorities after one of their youngest adoptees died.
Janet Killough Barreto’s biological daughter, Marainna Torres, is serving five years in prison after admitting she threw 2-year-old Ena across the bedroom in the dark “back trailer.”
“My mama told me to take her back there and spank her,” she said about that day. “After I got done spanking her, I threw her in her bed. And she hit pretty hard because there was no mattress. It was plywood.
“She landed on her whole body, but she, you could hear it when she hit her head.”
In a transcript statement to investigators, obtained this week by the Daily Journal, then-17-year-old Torres told about her life in virtual bondage to the couple, forced to care for the babies or feel the pain of beatings.
“I knew not to tell anybody,” Torres told the investigators. “I was scared. I was scared of her.”
Through her 72-minute conversation with law enforcement, Torres answered questions about what led to Ena’s death and what life was like for her as the main caregiver to the children, most under age 3.
Janet and Ramon, also charged in the child’s death, secretly left Union County in early May 2009 and are believed to be in Mexico, where he has family.
Torres said that after she threw Ena into her bed, the child practically went limp, and she took her into Janet’s room. “I told my mom there was something wrong with her,” she said, explaining that she began to give her CPR.
After several minutes of debate, the Barretos agreed to take Ena to the local emergency room. As they drove there, Torres said her mother devised a story about the child’s falling from a shopping cart during a trip to Memphis earlier in the day.
As it became obvious that Ena would not live, Torres said her mother called an uncle to pick up an older child, Byron, and another biological daughter, called Baby Janet. They didn’t want the state Department of Human Services to take them, as DHS did with the other children.
“They wanted to ship Byron to Mexico,” she continued, “because they knew that if they (DHS) got to him that he would talk.”
Torres gave details about how Byron, then 8, was punished often with beatings, held under water and punched in the stomach.
Part of his face even became discolored after he was struck and his skin burned by vinegar they applied to try to keep it from turning into a bruise.
Most times, Torres said, beatings were administered to body parts that generally weren’t visible to others. Because Byron was old enough for school, sometimes makeup was applied to mask his bruises.
When the Barretos and Torres took Ena to the ER, Byron was left to care for the other children.
Torres said the Barretos traveled to Guatemala several times to purchase children – some for $615 and others for as much as $11,000 to $25,000 – from Guatemalan adoption agencies.
“Like Juan and Ena were a lot cheaper because of their disability,” she said. One had a cleft lip and pallet, while the other had no toes on one foot.
Torres recalled traveling with the adults on most of the trips through Memphis, Tampa, Fla., Dallas or Houston, Texas, and even Georgia, depending on which airline they took.
Why did they continue to get children, asked one investigator.
“She (her mother) said she was getting them because she liked them,” Torres said.
“Sometimes I thought the dogs meant more to her than, you know, we did.”
– NEXT – Did any authorities ever see the Barretos’ filthy home?
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or email@example.com.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal