Slain 13-year-old 'suffered at the hands of a monster,' sheriff says
Marian Camacho, Joy Wang and Caleb James
January 30, 2018 11:11 PM
SANTA FE, N.M. – The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, New Mexico State Police and Santa Fe County District Attorney released more details Tuesday in the gruesome case of a 13-year-old boy who they say was abused, killed and then buried near Santa Fe.
Three people have been charged including the boy’s mother, Tracy Pena, her boyfriend Thomas Ferguson and Ferguson’s son Jordan Anthony Nunez. Law enforcement made it clear though, during Tuesday's news conference, that 42-year-old Thomas Ferguson is the prime suspect.
"The three individuals are behind bars, and that's not enough," said State Police Chief Pete Kassetas. "I want to concentrate on Thomas Ferguson as the main suspect."
Kassetas went on to detail Ferguson's criminal history going back 20 years. His background includes drug charges, probation violations, parole violations, shoplifting, aggravated assault, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, battery on a household member, abandonment abuse of a child, interference with communications, criminal sexual penetration, domestic violence, DWI, felon in possession of a weapon, obstruction, kidnapping and violation of a protection order.
Kassetas also posed the question as to why "evil" people like those in this case were able to be out from behind bars.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Robert Garcia says the boy's mother, Tracy Pena, led officers to the area where 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia was buried. A cadaver dog was used to locate the body. The boy's body is now with the Office of the Medical Investigator to reveal an exact cause of death.
An emotional Garcia addressed how difficult it is for law enforcement officers to handle cases such as this. He said the case is gruesome and that the "poor child suffered at the hands of a monster."
Authorities say Pena, and two of the kids living with the couple, told them that Ferguson was regularly violent and abusive and that they were afraid of him. Santa Fe District Attorney Marco Serna said that through interviews they've learned that Valencia was cruelly punished, at times forced into a dog kennel for "hours on end" without food or water.
Authorities believe in November, Ferguson got angry at Valencia and punched him in the face and stomach. Pena told investigators that when she returned home from being incarcerated, that she found 13-year-old Jeremiah on the bed, wrapped in a blanket, lifeless.
According to an affidavit for an arrest warrant, Pena told investigators that on Valencia’s birthday in December, Ferguson took her to a place off of State Road 503 where he claimed the boy was buried.
Pena, Ferguson and Nunez all are charged with child abuse resulting in death, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence.
Some people have already left flowers outside the home. Neighbors say the suspects lived in Tesuque with Valencia. The teen's grandmother told KOB she's been working with detectives for weeks, but it's difficult to stand there and listen to details about her grandson's death.
The abuse the boy allegedly suffered is hard for even veteran law officers to understand. New Mexico State Police Sgt. Richard Mathews worked at the scene where Valencia was buried.
"It never really hits you until you finish digging and you're recovering the victim," he said. "And I have children that are about that age, and it's hard for me."
KOB has also learned caseworkers may have believed Valencia and his sister were in danger before. Not only did the Children Youth and Families Department know of and visit Pena, but the agency launched an investigation. During that investigation, a judge granted temporary custody of the children to their grandparents. They stayed in the grandparents custody for one year, according to court documents.
CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said caseworkers launched an investigation of Pena in 2011 before boyfriend Ferguson was ever in the picture. Jacobson said mid-investigation, relatives stepped in and offered to care for Valencia and his sister.
A judge agreed, and the children were placed with their grandparents for a year. CYFD was no longer involved in 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," Jacobson said.
According to Jacobson, CYFD never received another call about the kids. But in Pojoaque, the guilt is overwhelming. Neighbors like Katarina Hernandez are stunned by what investigators now say was happening in this house many folks thought was empty.
"Constantly, time and time again, these children are being hurt by people who should be behind bars," she said.
A vigil is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Nambe Community Center.
Watch the entire news conference streamed by KOB's Joy Wang:
Marian Camacho, Joy Wang and Caleb James
Updated: January 30, 2018 11:11 PM
Created: January 30, 2018 07:02 AM
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