Dec. 11 marked the one-year anniversary of the rescue of an abused young girl in East Quincy, which in turn led to the discovery of her dead siblings in a Redding storage unit.
“This time of year will roll around and you will remember that you saved a life,” Elliott Smart said of what he told his employees as the anniversary approached. Smart is director of Plumas County Social Services and it was his employees along with Sheriff’s Office personnel who removed a then 9-year-old from her life-threatening circumstances.
A child welfare check Dec. 11, 2015, led to the discovery of a young girl locked in a vehicle. The girl weighed about 40 pounds, had broken bones in her shoulder, broken fingers, a dislocated jaw and teeth that were missing or loose.
The girl had been under the care of her aunt, Tami Joy Huntsman, then 39, of Salinas. Huntsman and her companion, a then 17-year-old Gonzalo Curiel, had arrived in Quincy on Dec. 7 and had been staying with friends. In addition to the young girl, Huntsman’s 12-year-old twins were with them.
The girl was transported to Plumas District Hospital and Huntsman and Curiel were arrested that evening. After intensive questioning by law enforcement, Curiel told them where to find the bodies of the girl’s two younger siblings — a 3-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy, Delylah and Shaun Tara. They also had been in the care of Huntsman, following the death of their mother, who was Huntsman’s sister.
The children’s bodies were found in plastic bins in a storage locker in Redding.
Though the couple was originally arrested in Plumas County, it was determined that the deaths and the bulk of abuse occurred in their home in Salinas so they were returned to Monterey County to stand trial.
During an interview last week, Steve Somers, the deputy district attorney from Monterey County who is prosecuting the case, shared some of how the little girl is doing.
“She’s had a number of surgeries to repair her injuries and she’s doing well physically,” Somers said. “And she seems to be in pretty good spirits.”
Last year Plumas County residents and people around the world responded to the little girl’s story sending money and gifts. Somers said a portion of that money was used to pay for surgery to her jaw.
While he couldn’t disclose her current location or details of her living situation, he did say that she was being well cared for in a loving home. Plumas County’s Child Protective Services is still in charge of the girl’s care.
Somers said that she as well as the twin children of Huntsman are working with therapists.
At some point these children could be called on to testify. Somers wants to go trial as soon as possible for a variety of reasons, but of paramount concern to him is the wellbeing of the children.
“These kids need to heal and it’s hard for them to heal when they know they may have to go into court and testify,” he said. “They’ve all suffered because of this.”
There is also the concern that the longer it takes, the more the children could forget.
However, Somers is balancing those concerns against the need to proceed by the book and not rush justice. “If we go too fast and push too hard, an appellate court could become involved.”
A change in defense lawyers has delayed the case, but all parties are scheduled to be in court Jan. 13 to set a trial date.
Somers and his team were in Quincy in November to meet with Sheriff’s Office personnel, the District Attorney’s office, Child Protective Services and civilian witnesses.
Somers was highly complimentary of local law enforcement and CPS. “It’s just amazing how much cooperation we’ve been receiving,” he said.