Few answers in Española girl's death

FBI, now leading investigation, awaiting autopsy results; public records show family has history of domestic violence

By Ari Burack and Phaedra Haywood
aburack@sfnewmexican.com & phaywood@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 9/16/19

Victoria Maestas didn't want to talk the day after her 5-year-old daughter's body was found in the Rio Grande.

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Few answers in Española girl's death

FBI, now leading investigation, awaiting autopsy results; public records show family has history of domestic violence

Posted

Victoria Maestas didn't want to talk the day after her 5-year-old daughter's body was found in the Rio Grande.

"I just want to deal with what I have to deal with," she said Thursday morning.

Maestas' public silence and the ongoing investigation into the disappearance and death of her young daughter, Renezmae Calzada, who was last seen Sunday morning outside an Española home, leave many unanswered questions.

Authorities have named no suspects and have given few details about the child's death, exactly where her body was found or how she might have ended up in the river, which is at least a mile from the east-central Española yard where she vanished.

A spokesman for the FBI, which announced late Thursday it had taken the lead in the case, said investigators were still waiting for the results of the girl's autopsy but considered her death suspicious.

In a statement, the federal agency said its jurisdiction was based on where Renezmae went missing and where "any alleged crimes may have occurred, which appear to be within the boundaries of Santa Clara Pueblo, and the child's affiliation with the Pueblo."

According to her Facebook page, Maestas is from Santa Clara. Ralph Martinez, a local community activist who hosted a vigil for Renezmae on Wednesday in Española, said the girl, known as "Mae Mae" to friends and family, had attended prekindergarten at the pueblo's Head Start program.

Santa Clara Pueblo officials did not respond to messages Thursday seeking comment on the case.

Renezmae was last seen around 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the front yard of a family member's home somewhere near McCurdy Road, according to law enforcement officials. Her mother reported her missing around 6 p.m. that day.

More than 100 community members joined in a four-day search for the girl before her body was recovered Wednesday afternoon in the river.

Photos on family members' Facebook pages show Renezmae smiling and seemingly well cared for: wearing her hair in pigtails, squeezing her little brother tight, donning a festive red dress in front of a Christmas tree surrounded with gifts, posing in the child's seat of a grocery cart, descending the slide at a playground, laughing.

But public records show she had weathered a fair amount of upheaval and strife in her short life.

She was born Feb. 22, 2014, according to police and court documents. It's unclear who her father was or why she was given the last name Calzada. For most of her life, court records show, her mother, 33-year-old Maestas, was involved in a tumultuous relationship with Malcolm Torres, the father of a son Maestas had in 2018.

Court records list four different addresses for the family in recent years, and all four of them have different last names. Renezmae's little brother's last name is Archuleta, records show.

Torres, 25, was arrested Sunday night on outstanding warrants in an unrelated drunken-driving case and booked into the Rio Arriba County jail in Tierra Amarilla, where he remained Thursday. The Rio Arriba County Sheriff's Office said earlier this week Torres is not a suspect in Renezmae's disappearance, but investigators wanted to speak with him about what might have happened to her.

He and Renezmae's mother had separated a few months ago, Maestas said in a court document seeking an order of protection from Torres.

Maestas filed the petition in August, alleging Torres regularly hit her, threatened her and called her names in front of her children during the course of their four-year relationship.

"He has held a knife to my throat and hit me," Maestas wrote in the petition, filed Aug. 8. "On Halloween he hit me ... and they arrested him. He said if I ever took his son he'd kill me. I've been to work with black eyes."

According to a New Mexico State Police report, Torres was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of aggravated battery on a household member Oct. 31, 2018, after his relatives called 911.

While the report said Torres told state police officers he and Maestas had engaged in an argument that day, Maestas gave an account of a series of violent attacks.

She told officers Torres began to argue with her after she woke from an afternoon nap, accusing her of cheating on him. He then punched and choked her, she said. He stopped attacking her when their children came into the couple's bedroom, asking if they were going to go trick-or-treating, she added, but he sent the children to their rooms and told them to wait.

Then, she told police, Torres "bear hugged her and threw her to the ground multiple times" in the kitchen. He also grabbed her by the head and "bashed her face against the kitchen cabinets and counter tops several times," the report said.

Apparently, the couple later took the children trick-or-treating, and they then drove to a home where Torres' close relatives live to show off the children's costumes. (While some court documents and police reports say Torres' parents lived at the home, others indicate the residents were his grandparents.)

The couple began arguing again, Maestas said.

When she parked, the report said, Torres "grabbed her head and bashed her face against the steering wheel and gear shifter several times," and then broke the vehicle's rearview mirror.

Maestas told officers she ran to the front door, yelling for help.

Torres ran after her and began arguing with his relatives inside the home, according to the report, at one point pushing a relative, identified as his father, to the floor. Torres then took his son and walked down the road, the report said.

That's where he encountered state police officers responding to his relatives' 911 call.

Torres was initially uncooperative and told officers, "They are not taking my son from me," according to the report. Officers said they smelled alcohol on his breath.

Maestas said in her Aug. 8 petition she had taken Renezmae to counseling after the Halloween incident, and the couple separated in June. She alleged Torres had been using the children as leverage to manipulate her.

"He pressured me into sex in order to see the kids so I haven't seen my kids in a week because he wants sex," she wrote. "He has thrown things at me, thrown me. He's done it all in front of our children."

She also said Torres "switched my daughter's school without my permission."

Renezmae had been enrolled in kindergarten at Eutimio "Tim" Salazar III Elementary School in Española since the start of the school year, according to Española Public Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez.

Though, a parent who volunteered at the school told the Rio Grande Sun the girl had been absent the week before she disappeared, the newspaper reported.

The court granted Maestas temporary custody of the children Aug. 9, according to court records, and the couple agreed at an Aug. 16 hearing to share custody -- each keeping the children on alternating weeks -- until their custody dispute could be decided in court.

Three weeks later, Renezmae was gone.

On Wednesday, the Maestas family set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for the family. As of Thursday evening, the campaign had raised $1,835 toward its $10,000 goal.

"We lost our dear babygirl Renezmae Calzada," says a message on the page. "Although the circumstances were unfortunate, our community has truly proven to us there is good in this world!"

Renezmae "was an amazing, beautiful talented babygirl who loved Frozen, unicorns, roses & her favorite color was pink," the message says. "She had a bright future, & an even brighter smile!"

Robert Nott of The New Mexican contributed to this report.

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