The case began with a call from a concerned citizen about 3 p.m. Friday: Someone should check on a little girl living in a home on Main Street who might be in danger.
By Tuesday, that call had authorities in three counties scrambling to untangle the events that led to the discoveries of two dead children inside a storage locker in Redding, a severely beaten 9-year-old girl inside a locked car in Quincy, and the arrest of a couple newly arrived in town.
The suspects in the case are a 39-year-old Salinas woman with a history of drug and child-abuse charges, and her 17-year-old companion. They both face up to life in prison on torture and child-abuse charges, and are suspects in a homicide investigation opened by detectives in Redding.
The pair, Tami Joy Huntsman and Gonzalo Curiel, were being held in Quincy on $1 million bail each. They made a brief court appearance Tuesday afternoon but did not enter pleas. Curiel was being charged as an adult.
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They left the courthouse shackled and with blankets over their heads.
Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood said some officials were so shaken by the abuse the girl endured that he expects to grant them leave to recover.
“This investigation has had a profound impact on anyone who came in contact with it,” Hagwood said Tuesday. “When you see what has been done to a beautiful little 9-year-old girl …” the sheriff said before halting to compose himself. “Anyone not affected needs to get some help.”
Hagwood told the Plumas County News earlier that the girl weighed about 40 pounds, had multiple fractures, including broken fingers and a dislocated jaw, and was missing teeth.
The victim was found Friday after a citizen called Plumas County child protective services asking for a welfare check, Hagwood told The Sacramento Bee.
A deputy discovered the girl inside a locked vehicle parked near the Main Street apartment Huntsman and Curiel had recently moved into after coming from the Salinas area.
The girl was taken to an area hospital, then moved to Sacramento for further care.
Initially, officials were handling what was believed to be a case of child abuse.
But Sunday, Plumas County authorities got a call from someone in Monterey County asking about the condition of a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old tied to the case, Hagwood said.
“We knew nothing about a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old,” the sheriff said. “That was the first we knew anything.
“The information was very specific and very credible.”
Armed with that information, detectives went back to question the pair in jail and learned about the storage locker in Redding, the sheriff said.
Redding police broke the lock on the storage unit on the southeast side of the city and discovered the bodies of two small children. The department launched a homicide investigation.
The bodies were discovered at the Enterprise Stor-All, off Tarmac Road and next to Highway 44, in a center that includes rows of white lockers and a yard containing a collection of rusted cars, old fishing boats, several portable toilets and a green shipping container.
The business owner declined to comment to reporters flocking to the site, and there was no sign of police activity Tuesday afternoon.
Redding police said Tuesday that they had not identified the children yet, but said Huntsman and Curiel were known to have had custody of two small children – Delylah Tara, 3, and Shaun Tara, 6 – who had been reported missing.
Photos released by Redding police show a snapshot of a dark-haired toddler girl with a gap-toothed smile looking up at the camera, and a framed photograph of a tow-headed boy in a striped polo-style shirt buttoned to his neck.
Police said the couple had traveled from Salinas on Nov. 27 and stayed at a Motel 6 in Dunnigan the next night. They also traveled to Redding, Shingletown and then Quincy, police said.
Hagwood said the pair arrived in Quincy last week with the 9-year-old girl and two 12-year-old twins, and moved into an apartment belonging to a friend.
Officials did not divulge the relationships between the children and the suspects.
The 12-year-old boy and girl apparently are the children of Chris Criswell, a Salinas man who records show once lived with Huntsman and may have been married to her.
Huntsman filed a civil petition naming Criswell in Monterey County Superior Court in January, and Criswell noted on his Facebook page later that his marriage had broken up.
In subsequent postings Monday, Criswell wrote that he was avoiding the media but had a family emergency and needed “gas and hotel money to go get my twins in Quincy.” He later attached a link to a media report about Huntsman’s arrest.
Huntsman has used the name Criswell in the past, including last year when she publicly defended her younger brother, Wayne Allen Huntsman, following his arrest in Placerville on charges of setting the King Fire. That September 2014 blaze burned 100,000 acres, destroyed 12 homes and 68 other buildings, and caused 12 injuries. Charges in the arson case are pending.
Tami Huntsman’s Facebook page includes photos of her brother and the note, “Miss you, bro,” as well as a listing that says she works at “Being the Best Mom I Can Be.”
Huntsman is originally from Santa Cruz County, where online Superior Court records show she has faced child endangerment and child abuse charges twice in past years.
In June 1997, Huntsman was charged with felony burglary, grand theft and abuse/child endangerment. Those charges were dismissed, and she was convicted of being an accessory to a felony after the fact.
Eight months later, she was charged with possession of drugs for sale and child endangerment. Huntsman was later acquitted of the endangerment charge and convicted of possession of a controlled substance.
Until recently, she and Curiel apparently were living in Salinas at a Fremont Street apartment. Television reports from Salinas on Monday night showed investigators entering an apartment there clad in protective hazardous materials suits.