SANTA FE, N.M. – A 13-year-old New Mexico boy whose body was recently discovered in a shallow grave after a weeklong search was allegedly abused by his mother’s boyfriend for years and spent his last days in a dog kennel, authorities said.
Jeremiah Valencia died after being “subjected to horrifying circumstances,” according to a statement posted on the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Facebook page, which announced three arrests in the “tragic” case — including the teen’s mother — earlier this week.
Tracy Ann Pena, 35, Thomas Wayne Ferguson, 42, and Jordan Anthony Nunez, 19, have each been charged with the following: abuse of a child resulting in death, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence.
Santa Fe Sheriff Robert Garcia tried to hold back tears as he revealed new details in the horrific case at a news conference Tuesday, telling reporters that “this poor child suffered at the hands of a monster.”
Garcia said Jeremiah was fatally beaten about two months ago; after, his body was taken to the side of a road, where they buried the child’s remains, according to Albuquerque television station KRQE. Although he had been missing for months, his disappearance was never reported to authorities.
What tipped investigators to the boy’s death was something Pena — his mother — told a fellow inmate when she was behind bars for an unrelated case. She talked to the inmate about her missing son, telling the other individual he had been killed, the station reported, citing court documents.
The inmate alerted deputies about the information the woman had shared, which sparked an investigation into the teen’s whereabouts. The search ended over the weekend when his body was found in a shallow grave down a steep embankment off State Road 503, near Nambe, KRQE reported.
A cause of death was not immediately known.
At the news conference, New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas described Ferguson, Pena’s boyfriend, as “the main suspect” in the case, television station KOB, also in Albuquerque, reported.
Investigators believe Ferguson had been beating Jeremiah for years, to the point where the teen was in a wheelchair or had to use a cane to walk, according to KRQE.
The victim spent much of the final days of his life in a dog kennel, according to authorities.
“He was placed in a dog kennel for hours on end without food. It’s absolutely heartbreaking, these acts are senseless,” said District Attorney Marco Serna.
Nunez, Ferguson’s son, told deputies he witnessed his father hit the boy and then take him to the back of their house, according to KRQE. The three suspects allegedly took the body and buried him on the side of the road.
After their arrests Monday, Pena, Ferguson and Nunez were booked into jail, according to the sheriff’s statement. They are all being held without bond.
“It’s hard to sleep at night just thinking about the abuse this poor child went through,” Garcia told reporters.
Ferguson had a lengthy criminal history that went back about 20 years, Kassetas said, according to KOB. The suspect’s background included aggravated assault, abandonment abuse of a child, criminal sexual penetration, domestic violence, kidnapping and drug charges, he said.
After detailing the history, Kassetas questioned how such “evil” people were able to get out of jail.
“I thought, ‘What could I say to comfort the public and the folks out there that are following this case,’ and unfortunately I have absolutely nothing for you,” he said. “I would like to say that the three individuals are behind bars, but that’s not enough in this.”
KOB, citing court documents, also reported that the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department had investigated Pena back in 2011, and her two children — Jeremiah and an unnamed sister — were in the temporary care of their grandparents for about a year while the agency looked into the case.
“CYFD can only be brought back into a family’s life if we receive additional calls of allegations of abuse or neglect and so that the last investigation we had was in 2011,” CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson told the station.