Police arrested a 39-year-old California woman and her 17-year-old boyfriend after two small children left in their care were found dead in a storage locker.
Tami Joy Huntsman and her teenage beau, Gonzalo Curiel, both of Salinas, were cuffed Friday after officers conducting a welfare check discovered a severely abused and starved 9-year-old girl, lying on the floorboard of a locked vehicle.
Authorities later discovered the bodies of a 3-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy stuffed into plastic containers in a Redding storage unit rented by Huntsman, the Plumas County News reported.
The couple is being held on $1 million bail. They were charged with felony child abuse, torture, and mayhem, Redding police said. Murder charges are likely forthcoming, authorities said.
What started as a Plumas County child abuse investigation led to a double murder probe in Redding, about 140 miles north. Police in Salinas, where the couple lived, are also involved.
The Redding Police Department learned from Salinas cops that Huntsman and Curiel “had physical custody of two juveniles that have been reported as missing persons,” according to a statement released Tuesday.
The missing children are identified as Delylah Tara, 3, and Shaun Tara, 6. Authorities said they haven’t confirmed that these children were the victims found in the storage facility.
“There are people in our world that are capable of horrible acts of evil, and for anybody that sees something that isn’t right… say something,” Sheriff Greg Hagwood told The Daily Beast. “I’m very grateful that the 9-year-old girl is alive. She probably would have died of her conditions in very short order had she not been discovered.”
“To treat small children in such a barbaric fashion, it’s beyond anything that reasonable people can even begin to understand,” Hagwood added.
Huntsman is the 9-year-old girl’s aunt and became her guardian after the girl’s mother died two years ago, the Plumas News reported.
Hagwood told The Daily Beast that the dead children were siblings, and didn’t appear to be related to Huntsman or the 9-year-old girl. It’s unclear why Huntsman had custody of the other two kids or for how long.
Authorities began investigating the 9-year-old’s abuse after a citizen who came into contact with the family quickly realized something was wrong and alerted child protective services, who called police, Hagwood said.
On Friday afternoon, an officer with the Plumas County sheriff’s department found the girl in grave condition, lying under blankets in what Hagwood believes was an attempt to keep warm in the chilly Sierra Nevada temperatures.
Meanwhile, Hagwood told the Plumas News the girl weighed about 40 pounds, had broken bones in her shoulder, broken fingers, a dislocated jaw, and missing or loose teeth. The girl, who underwent five hours of surgery on Sunday, also had open sores and lice.
Hagwood told The Daily Beast the girl was frequently placed inside the vehicle, described by the Plumas News as a Toyota 4Runner SUV.
“Keep this young lady in your thoughts and prayers,” Hagwood said. “Her physical injuries will take a very, very long time to recover from. [But] my fear is that her emotional injuries may very well take a lifetime.”
On Sunday, as investigators probed the abuse case, they received a call from someone in Monterey County seeking to check on the condition of a 3-year-old and 6-year-old in Huntsman’s care, Hagwood said.
Investigators said Huntsman was not cooperative with police. Curiel, who is being charged as an adult, told officers where to find the two young children, according to the Plumas County News.
Redding police made the grisly discovery Sunday evening after breaking the lock on the storage unit. Hagwood told The Daily Beast the bodies of the children were likely stored at the facility for more than a week.
Huntsman and Curiel recently moved to Quincy, California, and were staying with a friend of her brother, Hagwood told The Daily Beast. The brother, Wayne Allan Huntsman, is a career criminal who made headlines in 2014 for allegedly starting a catastrophic forest fire in California.
Authorities placed Huntsman’s two older biological children, a 12-year-old boy and girl twins, who were also at the Quincy residence, in foster care.
Redding police are asking anyone with information on the couple’s activities to come forward and released a rough timeline of their travels: Huntsman and Curiel traveled between the cities of Salinas, Redding, Shingletown and Quincy between Nov. 27 and Dec. 11. They stayed at the Motel 6 in Dunnigan on Nov. 28.
Monterey County social services investigated Huntsman and her family in the last year for general neglect, KSBW reported.
On Facebook, Huntsman presented herself as a dedicated mom—a display in stark contrast with the sickening abuse allegations. In her profile picture, she beams for the camera with a blond little girl. “I love being with my kids and my family,” she wrote in her “about” section.
Under work, Huntsman wrote, “Being the Best Mom I Can Be,” from “August 16, 1994 to present.”
Monterey County court records show Huntsman was suing her ex-husband, Chris Criswell, for child support in 2013.
On Monday, Criswell took to Facebook to comment on the case. “I am sick and numb… for the loss of two beautiful babys,” he wrote, adding, “I hope to get the twins wenesday please don’t call me I don’t want to talk I LOVE U ALL.”
Huntsman isn’t the only one in her family to face high-profile charges.
Last year, her brother Wayne Allan Huntsman, 37, was indicted for allegedly setting the King forest fire, which burned for over a month and destroyed 12 homes, 68 buildings, and more than 97,000 acres, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The fire cost $5 million a day to fight, KSBW reported.
Back then, Tami Huntsman, who went by Tami Criswell, defended her brother, whose bail was set at $10 million and whose lengthy rap sheet includes assault with a deadly weapon and grand theft.
Concealing her identity by wearing a black hoodie, Tami told a TV reporter, “I’m devastated, in shock, I can’t believe that he would ever have anything to do with something like that or that he would do anything intentionally like that.”