The first time the 3-year-old foster child ingested meth, she recovered.
But she wasn’t removed from the California foster home that she had been placed at just days earlier, according to a lawsuit filed this week.
Two weeks later, though, she ingested meth again — and this time, 3-year-old Mariah died. Paramedics found a baggie of methamphetamine rocks in her room.
A lawyer for her family says her death has received almost no scrutiny because cases in the juvenile and foster care system are confidential.
Never miss a local story.
“They don’t have a voice, they don’t have people who will speak out on their behalf,” Darren Kessler, the attorney representing Mariah’s brother Jeremyah through his guardian, Shannon Villanueva, told the East Bay Times. “What happens is it’s a system without accountability. The people who are in control of the kids in cases such as this are the ones responsible.”
The lawsuit was filed on Monday, Oct. 2 — what would have been Mariah’s fifth birthday, according to ABC.
Jeremyah and Mariah had been taken from their mother in Alameda County and put into foster care on Sept. 30, 2015, according to the lawsuit, based on allegations of abuse and neglect. Jeremyah was 5 at the time, and Mariah was 3.
They were then placed in the home of Maria Refugio Moore in Stockton, Calif. around Sept. 30.
But just days later, Moore claimed Mariah was “acting strange” and “talking to herself,” according to the lawsuit. The girl’s heart was racing, she was shaking and sweating, and she was saw monkeys and bunnies running around where there were none.
Hours later, she was taken to the hospital — and a urine sample revealed she had methamphetamine in her system. The hospital’s final diagnosis for the 3-year-old was “altered level of consciousness” and “amphetamine abuse.”
Police and the hospital told Alameda County social workers, who were responsible for Mariah, yet the girl remained in Moore’s home.
But on Oct. 16, less than two weeks later, the girl died — held in the arms of her 5-year-old brother, according to the lawsuit.
She said she was seeing spiders, and her hands were cramped and contorted, the lawsuit says. The little girl’s fingers shook. She spoke in gibberish as her stomach convulsed.
Jeremyah complained to Moore, her boyfriend and others about his sister’s condition. But she didn’t get medical help until she was dead, when paramedics showed up to find the girl unresponsive.
Paramedics found the baggie of meth in Jeremyah and Mariah’s room — and an autopsy determined she died of methamphetamine toxicity, the lawsuit says.
“Logic compels interpreting Mariah’s senseless death and exposure to methamphetamine, twice in two weeks, as an obvious product of abuse and neglect,” the lawsuit says.
Jeremyah was removed from the home later that day.
The lawsuit lists Alameda County, two employees, Triad Family Services, and Moore — the foster parent at the time — as defendants, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit cites the “lingering and reoccurring effects of extreme emotional trauma from the danger created of experiencing his sister, Mariah, suffer from drug exposure and death.”
Villanueva, his guardian, said Jeremyah, now 7, has had difficulty understanding what happened to his sister.
“When he can’t really take it anymore he'll have meltdowns and he’ll cry,” Villanueva told ABC. “And he’ll cry until he loses his voice sometimes.”
Moore defended herself in a phone interview with the East Bay Times on Tuesday.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Moore said. “I was cleared. I was not charged with anything.”