Brother of tortured, neglected autistic woman pushes for change

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The sting of alleged failures at the state level is not going away any time soon for one local family.

Last month, state leaders shared the horrific case of Mary Melero, an autistic woman who was being cared for through a state program. Now, her caretaker and two others are accused of torturing and neglecting Melero, leading to her death in April.

Anastacio Melero had always been close to his sister.

“She always had my back growing up, and I always had her back growing up,” said Melero. 

They grew up in the South Valley, just three years apart in age.

“Mary was just a happy person, she was very smart in her own way. A lot of people really didn’t understand her, but I understood her very well,” said Melero. 

When Mary Melero’s mom couldn’t take care of her anymore, and plumbing and electrical issues came up in their family home, Melero moved to a group home, and got into the state’s Developmental Disabilities Waiver Program. 

Melero bounced from home to home in the metro for years, until she landed with Angelita Chacon in Rio Rancho in 2020.

Melero says that’s when the trouble started.

“Angel just refused to contact us. I would call and call,” he said. “We tried asking the state if she could stay with my in-laws, or she could stay somewhere else and they denied it. They didn’t want us to.”

Then came the news his sister was in a Texas hospital in February after Border Patrol agents rescued her from the back of a van at the Mexico border.

Chacon, the caregiver, told them she needed to take Melero to Mexico for medical treatment. 

Investigators say Melero was unresponsive, and covered in infected sores and open wounds. 

“I never knew somebody could do such things that she did to my sister. It’s so inhumane,” said Melero. “I almost didn’t even recognize her. I know her inside and out. I know everything about my sister, and to see her in the condition she was in? It was almost as if I didn’t recognize her.”

Chacon, her reported girlfriend Patricia Hurtado, and Luz Scott who reportedly supplied the van, are all facing charges. 

“We want laws changed, and we want requirements changed as well. There’s going to be a lot of changes that we’re going to ask for,” said Melero.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez is calling for several changes to the DD Waiver program, like mandatory health and safety checks every 90 days, and new civil and criminal penalties for companies and individuals.

“It feels like Mary was just a number to them, and Mary is much more than a number. And all the people that are suffering right now, they’re not going to be a number,” said Melero. 

Melero and his attorney, and the Attorney General’s office is working with state lawmakers in both chambers to come up with legislation by next session.