By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – Janet and Ramon Barreto still evade authorities four years after they ran away from state charges surrounding the death of a 2-year-old adopted daughter.
But recently, they could have been spotted in Bakersfield, Calif.
“It sounded just like them,” said Jimmy Edwards, sheriff in Union County.
Edwards said someone called local law enforcement, but it took too long to get to the location and the couple in question was gone.
They reportedly were seen selling puppies and DVDs.
Still, Edwards and others looking for the Barretos are not discouraged.
They say they have time on their hands, and the Mississippi charges will never go away.
In May 2008, the couple and Janet’s biological daughter took a drive to Memphis with several of the small children the Barretos adopted from Guatemala.
Court testimony by the daughter showed that after 2-year-old Enna continued to cry throughout the trip, Janet Barreto ordered the daughter to discipline the child when they returned to their mobile home just outside New Albany.
The teenager, who said she was forced out of high school to care for some eight children, seemed to snap emotionally and threw Enna across a bedroom into her baby bed, which did not contain a mattress.
The child was taken to the hospital but died of massive trauma.
They initially told the police that Enna fell out of a shopping cart.
A Union County grand jury indicted the Barretos on 10 counts, including six counts of child endangerment, three of child abuse and one of manslaughter by culpable negligence.
If convicted on all charges, they face up to life in state prison.
The biological daughter, then 16, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served a five-year term in prison, where she earned her high school diploma. At 22, she’s working to make a life for herself.
When the 2-year-old died, investigating authorities discovered deplorable living conditions inside the home and a large puppy mill in their backyard. Scores of dogs were euthanized because of poor physical conditions and others were adopted by pet-lovers across the U.S.
Living with them were the teenager and six young children, besides Enna. An eighth child was believed to have been handed over to relatives, then later adopted.
Ultimately, all the children were adopted into families.
During court testimony, the teenager said she’d overheard her mother talking about marketing the children, like they sold dogs over the Internet.
When they left Union County, the Barretos left a local bonding company holding a $900,000 obligation.
Law enforcement traced the Barretos into Mexico, where Ramon reportedly has family, but say every time they’ve gotten close to finding them, the two slip away.
This recent California sighting occurred in a mall parking lot.
News reports say they are believed to be in a red, older model two-door car with a black convertible top. They reportedly are known to frequent parking lots at Walmart stores, 99 cent stores, parks and swap meets.
Ramon Barreto, 33, is described 5-foot-5 and 137 pounds with Latin features, brown eyes and black hair.
Sometimes wearing a blond wig, 41-year-old Janet Barreto is 5-foot-6 and 300 pounds with brown eyes and black hair.
Chris Felix, supervisor of the U.S. Marshals’ Fugitive Task Force out of Oxford, also says he’s optimistic they will be caught sooner than later.
He admits Janet Barreto is a smart fugitive who’s so far managed to evade authorities.
“We’re making headway,” he said last week. “We’re exhausting all leads.”
Edwards said when the possible California sighting occurred about two weeks ago the U.S. Marshals Service was notified.
“They’ve been trying to work on it – it just got our hopes up a little bit,” said Edwards, who was a deputy when Enna died. He’s been closely associated with the case ever since, especially since he and his wife adopted one of the young children.
“Eventually they’re going to get caught,” he said. “The publicity helps keep it in front of people.”
He also expects additional resources to come to the case when it’s elevated to the Marshals’ Top 15 Fugitives list.
“Somebody is going to see them,” the sheriff said.