POMONA (CBSLA.com/AP) — After two children, 6 and 3, were found dead in a storage unit in Northern California on Sunday, the victims' half-sister said she had grave concerns about the children's guardian and wanted to have the kids removed from her custody.
Precious Aponte of Pomona said she helped raise the two children -- Delilah Tara and Shaun Tara -- who were found dead in the storage unit in Redding. The news of their death broke her heart.
"It completely tore me apart," she said. "You see these children, so innocent, so young, and you think why would anybody want to hurt them?"
Aponte said she helped raise the kids in Yucaipa until the children's mother died two years ago. After that, the younger children were placed in the custody of their aunt, Tami Huntsman, in Northern California. The children's father was in prison, according to reports.
Now, Hunstman, 39, and boyfriend Gonzalo Curiel, 17, have been arrested and charged with felony child abuse in a case involving another of Aponte's half-sisters, Frankie, a 9-year-old girl who was found starving and locked inside of an SUV in Plumas County on Friday with broken bones. She is currently recovering in a Sacramento hospital and is expected to survive.
Huntsman and Curiel are being held on $1 million bail each.
The investigation into the abuse of the 9-year-old girl led to the discovery of the two children in the storage unit.
Huntsman and Curiel have been named as suspects in connection with the death of Delilah and Shaun but have not been charged.
Aponte had recurring concerns about Huntsman and fought for custody of the children alongside their grandmother.
"If you didn't want the kids, why did you just give them to us?" she said. "We were fighting for custody."
Child welfare workers repeatedly visited the Salinas home of a woman now under investigation in the deaths of two children to check on complaints of neglect, an official said.
The children living in the apartment were not removed from Huntsman's care because there was no evidence they were at risk, Elliot Robinson, head of the Monterey County Department of Social Services, told The Associated Press.
There were four complaints between September 2014 and August about general neglect, a category that includes poor supervision, improper feeding, lice infestation and dirty household conditions, Robinson said, adding that none of the complaints alleged physical abuse.
"General neglect calls rarely will result in the removal of the child," he said. "More often than not it's about poverty."
Aponte said she can't understand how nothing was done.
"I feel anger the justice system has not done their job," she said. "I feel sad that two innocent children will never finish school, they will never see their teachers, they will never see their family."
Aponte said she's now determined to bring Frankie home.
"She's going to be safe and she's going to come home and not one person is ever going to touch her again," she said.
Social services officials were reviewing the agency's handling of the four neglect complaints.
"We're looking at the case to see if there's anything we should have done differently that could have prevented this tragedy," Robinson told the San Francisco Chronicle.
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