Family seeking justice in deadly abuse case
ELKHART, Ind.-- An unexpected call. An unthinkable tragedy. It all unfolded two weeks ago, allegedly involving 4-year-old Romeo Pineda-Duran and his stepfather, 19-year- old Christian Maradiaga inside his home on Toledo road in Elkhart. Close family friend of Maradiaga, Josue Sosa was on the other end of that facetime call which changed the lives of Romeo’s family forever.
“He was basically crying, telling me ‘I need help, I messed up’ and everything. And that’s when I told him, I jumped out of bed and told my wife I might have to go over there, because he was crying a lot. And that’s when he shows me Romeo,” Sosa said.
Sosa said Maradiaga flipped the camera to show his stepson, unresponsive, after he said Maradiaga admitted to hitting and throwing Romeo around.
“It happened out of nowhere. I mean my first instinct is to help Romeo out and I wasn’t thinking about the police, I left it all to him to call and do all this and that you know because I thought he was in his right mind,” Sosa said.
It wasn’t before long until Sosa and his wife showed up to Maradiaga’s doorstep, learning more about what happened.
“He did tell me he was off ecstasy and he had smoked meth 5-15 minutes before that. So, he was intoxicated while he was watching the kids,” Sosa said.
Sosa said nobody called for help, forcing him to take matters into his own hands to save Romeo.
“I got him, and I said yeah we need to take him to the hospital now,” Sosa said.
“He’s (Christian) like ‘no bro, you don’t understand, I didn’t mean to do this, I trusted you please’, this and that. So, I told him right there this isn’t what we do. We don’t hit kids like this, we’re not like that. We don’t hit kids we don’t do that stuff and if he thought I was going to cover it I’m not going to do that. Whatever’s coming your way you’re going to get it and I’m going to leave it in God’s hands.”
Romeo was rushed to Elkhart General Hospital, but the injuries were so bad he had to be airlifted to Memorial in South Bend. All of this happening, as Romeo’s biological father, Jorge Pineda was left in the dark.
“I couldn’t believe what was going on and everything felt like a nightmare,” Pineda said. “A nurse pulled us aside and told us to be prepared for the worst.”
And that wort-case scenario tragically came. Romeo was pulled off life support and died at the hospital from the severe trauma.
“My son was just with me just 3 day ago and if only I had listened to him when he told me he wanted to stay longer with me, my son would still be here,” Pineda said.
The lingering thoughts of who Romeo could’ve become, makes the tragedy that much more heartbreaking.
“He was only 4-years-old, and he was such a happy kid. He was very smart, and he was very excited to go to school,” Pineda said.
“He brought happiness. I mean he was a 4-year-old boy. He had a bright smile and everything. He didn’t even get to the first grade, but I mean he loved dinosaurs, he was, he was always happy you know? So that’s what hurts the most,” Sosa said.
Along with the grief, also sits confusion and shock, that a man, stepfather and friend, was capable of allegedly doing something so unimaginable.
“We didn’t know what he was doing behind closed doors, only he did,” Sosa said. “He wasn’t that person I saw that day. His whole mood was different his personality was different, the way that he looked was different.”
“Romeo did use to talk good about him. And then, out or no where he would always tell me that Christian would be mean to him and I thought maybe he was just getting in trouble and that’s why he would confuse being mean to him,” Pineda said.
According to the Indiana Department of Child Services most recent data, they were called to investigate 276 child deaths with abuse or potential neglect in 2019. Michael Deranek is Vice President of Program Operations at Bashor Children’s Home in Elkhart. It’s an organization helping troubled children and families and deals with many child abuse and neglect cases.
“Vast majority of kids who end up in the child and welfare system or the juvenile justice system have experience some form of abuse of neglect or trauma in their life,” Deranek said.
He says these cases seemed to decline this past year during the pandemic, but that it’s not necessarily a positive thing.
“What I suspect is that in a lot of those situations, there may have been abuse and neglect going on but because people are isolated at home we may not be as aware of them,” Deranek said.
In order to eliminate abuse cases, he says the attitude of society towards getting help, needs to change.
“We need to reduce stigmas behind asking for help and we have to as a community say we aren’t going to look the other way. We aren’t going to pretend this doesn’t happen in our neighborhoods in fact we are going to try and create a collaborate supportive relationships with our neighbors, friends and families so we can also support one another in societies job of helping raise the next generation,” Deranek said.
Justice for Romeo is all the family is asking now as the investigation continues.
Sosa even taking to Facebook after getting the call from the suspect that tragic night to tell his friends and anybody reading, that child abuse cannot be covered up. In the post he says Maradiaga asked him to help cover up the crime, but as soon as he saw how serious the situation was, he had no choice but to act.
“We haven’t experienced anything like this. This is something you read on the news and all that stuff and never think it’d happen to you,” Sosa said.
“We just want justice for our son,” Pineda said. “I just want Christian to take responsibility for what he did and just admit it and quit trying to hide it.”
The investigators are still piecing together Romeo’s death, and the Maradiaga is behind bars awaiting his day in court.
A Go Fund Me account is set up to help with Romeo’s expenses. If you would like to donate, click here.