Couple Caught 2 Months After Being Charged for Killing Child, Burying Him in Backyard

Wire Service
By Wire Service
March 30, 2019USshare
Couple Caught 2 Months After Being Charged for Killing Child, Burying Him in Backyard
Stock photo of a police car. (Greg Wood/AFP/GettyImages)

CLEVELAND—Authorities have captured a couple who has been on the run since January when they were charged for the death of a 4-year-old boy found buried in a trash bag in the backyard of a Cleveland home nearly two years ago.

Joanne Vega, 31, and her husband Romaine Tolbert, 36, were taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service Friday in the 300 block of East Maumee Street in Adrian, Michigan.

Joanne Vega
The mugshot of Joanne Vega. (Cleveland, OH/WEWS via CNN)

The couple was indicted on Jan. 14 and charged with murder, permitting child abuse, felonious assault, endangering children, involuntary manslaughter, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and kidnapping, according to court documents.

Romaine Tolbert
The mugshot of Romaine Tolbert. (Cleveland, OH/WEWS via CNN)

Vega is the godmother of Eliazar Ruiz, whose skeletal remains were found buried in the 12900 block of Longmead Avenue in September 2017.

Authorities said the 4-year-old had likely been buried there several months before he was found. His death was ruled a homicide.

After the child was found, authorities released a sketch in hopes that someone knew who he was. The boy’s mother, who was incarcerated at the time, saw the sketch and alerted police to his identity.

The boy’s mother told authorities that she left him in Vega’s custody when she went to jail in July 2016. He was reported missing the following summer, News5 reported.

Following the couple’s indictment, Vega and Tolbert were scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 29. When they didn’t show up to court, a warrant was issued for their arrest.

US Marshal Pete Elliott stated, “The men and women from various law enforcement agencies who worked this case from day one refused to give up and swore a commitment in the name of Eliazar Ruiz. Strong partnerships across the board enabled the officers to safely arrest these two desperate fugitives on the run.”

Child Abuse

An estimated 674,000 children were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2017, according to the Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Nationwide, an estimated 1,720 children died from abuse and neglect, a decline from the 1,750 children who died from the same in the previous year.

Officials said there was an increase in the number of referrals to Child Protective Services for an investigation but that there was a decline in the number of maltreatment cases, a phenomenon they will be probing.

Of the abused children, 25 percent were younger than 1 year old. Another 52 percent were between 1 year old and 5 years old.

Caretaker Finds Body of Infant

The body of an infant was found inside a flower pot at a cemetery in Carrollton, Texas by a caretaker on March 11.

According to police, a caretaker at Perry Cemetery emptied a flower pot that was “out of place” and found the body under soil inside the pot.

The medical examiner determined that the infant was a girl and was 34 weeks to full term. She weighed six pounds and still had the umbilical cord attached to her.

Perry cemetery infant found
Perry Cemetery, a caretaker buried an infants body inside a flower pot in Carrollton, Texas, on March 11, 2019. (Screenshot/Google view)

So far they have not determined if the child was stillborn or not.

“We are awaiting further test results to determine whether she was born alive,” Carrollton police spokeswoman Jolene DeVito said in a news release Wednesday.

Investigators say the flower pot may have been placed inside the cemetery between Wednesday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, March 2.

Perry Cemetary infant found 1
Map shows Perry Cemetary. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

Police say it appears someone was trying to craft a burial spot by putting the body in the pot and placing flowers inside.

“It would seem that whoever placed the baby’s body there also put the flowers, we just don’t know at this point, which is why we’re appealing to the public, anyone who knows anything that can point us on the direction, we want to hear from you,” said DeVito.

Police are also wanting help in identifying the baby in order to give her a proper burial.

Anyone with information is asked to call police at 972.466.3324.

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