Horrifying details are emerging in a suspected case of child abuse that could leave a 4-year-old El Paso boy in a permanent vegetative state, if he survives.
The child's aunt, Jessica Nuñez, 31, is accused of repeatedly hitting the boy for soiling himself. The boy also had burns to his genitals and an iron-shaped burn on a thigh, according to a criminal complaint filed by investigators.
The boy has severe brain injuries, a lacerated liver, a collapsed lung and is on a ventilator at El Paso Children's Hospital, the complaint affidavit states.
Nuñez allegedly beat the boy and his 5-year-old sister, who were under her care at her home in the Kennedy Communities in the Lower Valley, police said.
The boy's sister told a forensic interview investigator that Nuñez would "spank them in the face" and hit them with a folded phone-charger cord, telling them to "shut the (expletive) up," as well as hitting them with a back scratcher, a curtain rod and punches, according to an affidavit filed by a detective.
Nuñez was arrested last week on two counts of injury to a child and remains jailed on a $1,005,000 bond.
Jail Magistrate Sara Priddy denied a bond reduction in a video-conference court hearing Thursday afternoon.
"These facts are egregious and, specifically, she's a danger to anyone who is in her care, any child who is in her care," Priddy said, adding, "I hope to God this baby gets better."
During the hearing, Nuñez's attorney, Evy Sotelo, said her client is disabled, four months pregnant and grew up in an abusive home. Nuñez was taking care of her brother's children for a period that was supposed to be a week that turned into three months. The children are now in foster care.
The alleged abuse was discovered May 22 when paramedics responded to a call about an unconscious boy at Nuñez's home in the 8800 block of Bob Kennedy Way. The aunt is the children's caretaker.
Medical staff noted the child had bleeding in the brain, a black eye, pupil damage, old dark bruises throughout his body and burns on the top of his right hand, genitals and the back of his right thigh, the affidavit states.
Aunt: Boy injured in accidents
According to the affidavit, Nuñez told police that the boy was injured when she had to brake suddenly and he wasn't in a car safety seat and fell while she was driving to the casino at Speaking Rock Entertainment Center around midnight.
Nuñez claimed she turned and saw the boy on the floorboard wheezing, shaking and then going limp. She drove home, tried to revive him by blowing air in his face, then called 911.
When asked about the child's other injuries, she tried to explain them to detectives, the affidavit states.
She told detectives the boy had soiled himself three times on a different day, the affidavit states. She filled the bathroom sink with hot water and Clorox and told the boy to clean himself. She left the restroom and then heard the boy scream because she claimed he put his hand in the hot water.
Nuñez said the boy's hand was red, started blistering and then turned "blackish." She told detectives she didn't take the child to the hospital because she wasn't his parent and didn't have his insurance information.
Medical staff, according to the affidavit, later told police that only the top of the boy's right hand was burned and it was not consistent with a submersion burn. The boy also had a burn on his thigh in the pattern of an iron.
The boy's aunt claimed the child had bruises on his back and upper torso after she left him with "an old friend named Kathy from back in the day" when Nuñez went out "partying and got drunk," the affidavit states. Detectives stated Nuñez could not provide more information on Kathy.
The affidavit also states that Nuñez claimed other injuries possibly occurred when:
- Her 2-year-old son and the boy were playing with sticks and hit each other.
- The boy hurt himself playing outside on an old bed frame.
- The boy hit his head on a shelf when he bent down to pick up something.
Doctors told detectives that the severity of the boy's injuries were consistent with abuse and not with the car explanation and the other reasons given by the child's aunt, according to the affidavit.
Children: Woman beat them
When interviewed by detectives specializing in child abuse, the boy's 5-year-old sister and Nuñez's 4-year-old daughter said that Nuñez would slap them in the face and hit them with a back scratcher and phone charger cord for not listening, the affidavit states.
The 5-year-old girl had bruises on her arms, face and right ear extending to the back of her head, police reported in an affidavit.
The girl told police her aunt slapped her so hard that she fell and hit a door, hitting her ear and the side of her head, the affidavit states. Nuñez told the girl to say that she had fallen off an exercise machine. Nuñez also threw a trash can that hit the girl in the back of the head. The girl added it hurt her feelings when her aunt was mean to her.
The girls told detectives that Nuñez would punch and hit the boy on the head with sticks, such as a curtain rod, for soiling himself, the affidavit states.
The affidavit states that the girls told police that Nuñez also allegedly grabbed the boy by the head and hit him against a wall and another time he cried a lot when he hit his face when she threw him to the floor. The girls said Nuñez told them not to tell anyone.
Boy clings to life, has strokelike injuries
An El Paso police news release issued Wednesday states that the boy "clings to life."
Doctors told investigators that the boy had injuries similar to a stroke, bleeding in his brain and damage from a lack of oxygen usually seen in drownings and some nonaccidental trauma, the affidavit states.
The document states that the child had a lacerated liver caused by blunt force trauma that could have been bleeding for a week.
The affidavit added that a doctor told detectives that the boy "has suffered severe brain damage and (the doctor) does not see him doing well and if he survives will be in some sort of vegetative state."