Ramon and Janet Barreto were approved three times across two years to adopt seven children from Guatemala, according to documents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Memphis.
In 2005, the Union County couple was were approved to adopt two children. And in a four-month span in 2006, they were granted the go-ahead for four and then one more.
Several years before, they had adopted a daughter with a health problem. They reportedly kept her in a cage in a closet off and on for six years. Then, they re-adopted her to a friend.
One law enforcement source says the Mississippi Department of Human Services was alerted to the caged-child story. At the federal level, everything looked fine.
“These children were never even on our radar,” DHS spokeswoman Julia Bryan said last week.
Neither Bryan nor Lorie Woodruff, DHS’s deputy for Family & Youth Services, could confirm any part in the child abuse report Friday.
Thirteen months ago, the Barretos fled Union County as they faced prosecution in the manslaughter death of one of those children, 2-year-old Enna. They also face trial for six counts of child endangerment and three for felony child abuse.
Janet’s teenage daughter, Marainna Torres, admitted she spanked Enna, on her mother’s orders, then killed her when she threw her into a baby bed May 19, 2008. She told case investigators in a 72-minute interview after her arrest about her life and these children’s lives in a home of filth and abuse.
Federal, state and local law enforcement continue efforts to find the Barretos. Some believe they are in Mexico, where Ramon has family.
But through the process to adopt the seven, it appears that few, if any, probing questions were asked about the couple or the situation into which these children were headed.
In her transcribed interview, Torres said she repeatedly was beaten as punishment.
“The only reason that I knew how to spank,” the then-17-year-old said, “the only reason I spanked her (Enna) that hard is because I was practically raised like that.
“All of the punishments are, if you were going to get a spanking, it was going to be where you would turn black.”
Other questions linger about how this couple, which described itself as in the property management business, was allowed to adopt so many foreign-born children.
But Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington, D.C., said seven children in one family may not seem like too many in some instances, citing her own family of seven siblings.
“To say that seven is too much – that’s case-by-case basis for the family to determine,” she said Friday.
USCIS considers a range of personal information about prospective adopters, and the Barretos submitted their paperwork each time.
Documents examined by the Daily Journal show they reported they were married Sept. 28, 2000, and in 2007 had an annual gross income of $49,800.
Union County tax records show they received income from renting about a dozen trailers on rural Union County property off County Road 326, CR 87 and CR 307.
And, as deputies discovered, they operated a puppy mill behind their two-trailer home at 854 CR 87. The dogs were sold on the Internet and in local parking lots.
Torres said that just before Enna died, her mother had begun an Internet push to “re-sell” two of the female children.
In December 2008, less than five months after her indictment, Janet Lee Killough Barreto, then 37, was examined at Region III Mental Health Center in Tupelo.
Her evaluation summary noted prominently “her super morbid obesity and diabetes,” high blood pressure and arthritis. She weighed 370 pounds that day.
It also cited various combinations of medications she had taken through the years, such as Benzodiazepines, muscle relaxers and pain medications, as well as Klonopin – which, the report said, “would be especially prone to produce cognitive deterioration and could accumulate in available fat tissues (copious in this case) to produce unpredictable effects.”
The clinical psychologist who evaluated her said she reported a traumatic history of “serious” spousal abuse before she married Ramon, then 31.
And she told the therapist of her repeated sexual molestations from age 9 into her teenage years, history of taking “several nerve pills,” as well as what she described as a “nervous breakdown” and subsequent hospitalization in 1996, for which she was taking Zoloft.
But slightly more than two years before that evaluation, a letter from Dr. Timothy F. Thompson of the Creekmore Clinic in New Albany told adoption officials that Janet Barreto “is in excellent general health.”
“I have not detected any evidence of any physical or mental conditions that would limit her ability to care for children,” his March 20, 2006, letter stated.
He also said he expected her to have a “normal life span” and “overall, she is in great physical and mental health to parent an infant, toddler or child.”
Thirteen days before, the Barretos apparently sought another such recommendation, which turned out not as glowing as Thompson’s.
Joy Loden, a certified family nurse practitioner, saw both of them at Community Family Health Center in Mantachie. Her letter said that while Ramon Barreto appeared to be in good physical and mental condition, Janet’s overall health and mental status “appears to be stable” to parent an infant, toddler or child.
Around that same time, New Albany real estate agent Steve Foster wrote a “witness statement” for them, saying the Barretos “have a great love for children” and both were financially and morally responsible, as well as having “a good reputation” with habits that demonstrate “good manners” and are “capable of adopting a child.”
He said he had known Ramon for five years and Janet for seven. He made a similar statement for them in May 2006.
District Attorney Ben Creekmore, whose office is prosecuting the Barretos, said he believes more should be known by agencies, such as the Mississippi Department of Human Services, to make decisions about whether to check up on situations like this after adoptions.
But he also recognized the current difficulties of working under the confidentiality of the adoption system.
Perhaps, he said, additional restrictions should be placed on potential international adopters after they adopt a certain number of children “to demonstrate their ability to care for them.”
Rhatigan said the most stringent rules for international adoptions, at this stage, are followed by countries that have signed on to what’s called the Hague Convention on Adoption.
But, she said, Russia wants more safeguards and more after-adoption home visits, after a distraught American mother recently put her Russian-born son on a plane back to his homeland.
“We just want to make sure everything that’s done is in the best interests of the children,” Rhatigan said.
The U.S. State Department continues to caution prospective adoptive parents not to make any new commitments regarding possible Guatemalan adoptions because it’s not certain yet that Guatemala’s inter-country adoption procedures are in compliance with the Hague Convention.
Adoption scandals have wracked the country for the past several years with allegations of so-called baby factories and children being stolen from their birth mothers to be offered for adoption.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Patsy’s blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com or follow her posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal