Brief picture of joy hides a horrible secret
- Mara Stine
- Gresham Outlook - News
Little Oleander endured abuse, neglect at hands of those she trusted the most
Oleander Labier didn't stand a chance.
Gresham police know that now with their investigation complete and the two people responsible for her death facing decades in prison.
But on April 13, 2010, when Gresham detective Tony Cobb was sent to Adventist Medical Center, where paramedics rushed the 5-year-old girl, he had no idea the horrors he would uncover.
Cobb, who's worked as a detective for 11 years, has investigated child abuse as part of the multi-jurisdictional Child Abuse Team and homicides as part of the Major Crimes Team.
Oleander's case began at 11:38 a.m. Wednesday, April 13, when her father's longtime girlfriend called 9-1-1. For all intents and purposes the girl was already dead - she was unconscious and wasn't breathing.
Cobb and Detective David Schmidt went to the apartment at 418 S.E. 169th Ave., just north of Southeast Stark Street, to preserve evidence. By then, Oleander was in the back of an ambulance where medics desperately tried to save her life.
But nine minutes after the 9-1-1 call came in, Portland police were already calling it a death investigation, though the girl's death wasn't official until 12:27 p.m.
For Schmidt, who'd just been promoted to detective after seven years with the department, it was his first homicide. He studied the girl's bedroom, consisting of little more than a bare mattress strewn on junk surrounded by piles of household stuff. There was no bedding - not even a blanket - in sight.
The girl's father and his girlfriend slept in another bedroom, where the couple's 3-year-old daughter and almost 1-year-old son also slept. Schmidt noted a portable crib for the baby and a small bed for the other girl.
Over at the hospital, Cobb walked into the emergency room where Oleander's body lay. Doctors and nurses, their faces pale and stricken, stood by.
Cobb's eyes came to rest on the girl's body.
In that moment - without even knowing the three years of unspeakable abuse and torture she'd endured - Cobb knew this was the worst case of child abuse he'd ever seen.
Broken and battered
Cobb was stunned by the girl's emaciated 28-pound frame. Shocked by the dark circles under her sunken eyes. Horrified by the bruises, scrapes, wounds and scars covering the girl.
In a jarring juxtaposition, lilac polish coated her toenails.
Back at the police department, Cobb briefed Schmidt on how bad the case was, trying to prepare the new detective for the autopsy that they'd both attend the next morning.
By then, X-rays showed that Oleander's thighbone had been repeatedly broken. So had her ribs. She had scarring on some of her internal organs.
A large red abrasion covered her chin. Bruises snaked down her jaw line, as did multiple abrasions and scabs.
Bruises were heavily concentrated on her knees, back and legs. Her entire right side, from hip to shoulder was covered with red wounds.
The tops of her hands and feet also were bruised.
Unlike other child homicides Cobb had investigated, there was no single injury that stood out as having caused her death. No obvious broken neck or clear sign of a fatal internal injury.
Instead, it appeared the totality of her injuries overwhelmed her.
The medical examiner found that Oleander died of battered child syndrome - the culmination of physical abuse, medical neglect and starvation.
'Her injuries just caught up with her,' Cobb said.
So broken and battered, the girl's body simply shut down.
A tough beginning
The detectives began digging and interviewed relatives.
Oleander's paternal grandparents, Frank and Marrian Turner, in Sandy, overcome with grief and guilt, gave detectives the girl's heartbreaking life story.
Her biological mother was a 27-year-old drug addict, who'd already had many children. When she got pregnant, the father - Christopher Andrew 'Andy' Rosillo - was just 17 years old.
The pregnant woman was living in Washington when she gave birth prematurely. The baby, named Oleander, weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces when born Feb. 18, 2005. Due to a medical condition, the baby needed a nasal feeding tube to eat.
The baby's mother was homeless, living in a shelter and would pass out, leaving the baby to cry. Shelter workers alerted police.
Washington child welfare officials placed Oleander with a loving foster family that specialized in medically needy children. 'Salt of the earth kind of people,' Cobb said.
One of the family's children, a 3-year-old, couldn't pronounce Oleander's name. That's how she got her nickname, Andie.
The foster family wanted to adopt her. But first, her father would have to agree.
By then, Andy was 18 and in a relationship with Guadalupe 'Lúpe' Quintero, who'd been crowned Miss Teen Clackamas County in 2006.
Andy's father tried to make Andy think long and hard about making a decision that would alter the baby's life. Andy hadn't met her, he didn't have a job and he was so young.
'Do the best thing for the baby, not for yourself,' Frank told him.
Andy decided he wanted custody. The fact that the baby was called Andie, just like her father, seemed like a good omen, Marrian said.
Andy, his parents and Lúpe traveled to Bellingham, where they learned how use the feeding tube. When her foster family turned her over, they also gave Andy and his parents a photo album filled with pictures of Andie during her seven months with them. Pictures loving parents take of things like first steps and birthday parties.
In September 2006, Andy was awarded custody and brought the girl to Oregon. She was 17-months-old.
Four months later, Lúpe gave birth to Natalie in late January 2007.
Court documents show that Lúpe and Andy began abusing Little Andie about a month later, around the time of her second birthday in February 2007.
Andie's paternal grandparents in Sandy discovered the abuse when Marrian went to give the little girl a shower and found a belt mark covering the span of her back.
They immediately took the girl into their care.
But a month later, her father wanted his daughter back.
'It wasn't up to us,' Frank said, adding that he asked a police officer friend of his if they really had to give her back. 'We didn't have custody of her.'
Their visits with Andie became less frequent with each farewell increasingly painful.
'She told me, 'I don't want to go home grandma,' but she'd never say why,' Marrian said. But grandparents are known for spoiling their grandchildren, and all 17 of their grandchildren loved coming over and didn't want to go home.
'We didn't know that she was meaning it in a different way than the other grandchildren meant,' Frank said.
Marrian began stopping by Andy's apartment without notice to see the little girl. But she never got to talk to her alone.
When Andie came over to their house, she'd sit in the car while her dad came inside. But when Frank would ask why little Andie didn't come in, her father would get defensive, a fight would erupt. And even more time would lapse between visits.
As for bruises or other injuries, occasionally they'd notice one. But Andy and Lúpe always explained them away. 'And looking back, Baby Andy always knew the story she had to tell,' Frank said.
Her final days
Detectives questioned Andy and Lúpe, who said Oleander fell the day before while walking on the Springwater Trail and scraped her chin.
Those piles of stuff in her room? The family was in the process of moving.
Her bare bed? She'd wet it the night before.
'Loving parents would have changed the sheets, brought out some extra blankets and tucked her in,' Schmidt said. 'They didn't do that.'
Instead, she was whipped with a belt and forced to stand in a freezing shower for 10 minutes.
Detectives interviewed more relatives. They'd noticed that Andy and Lúpe treated the girl differently than her siblings, punishing only her for something all three children were doing, like playing loudly.
Relatives reported Andie stayed locked in her bedroom while other kids played in the living room.
One friend saw Lúpe slap the girl's hand, sending the book she was holding flying. The offense: Andie wanted someone to read her a story.
Family photos showed a smiling foursome with Andie notably absent. The only photos of just Andie - not with her brother and sister - were given to detectives by her paternal grandparents.
One relative worried so much about how thin Andie was that he or she called a county child abuse hotline. In January 2009, a child welfare worker performed an in-person investigation. At the time, Andie and her family were living with Lúpe's mother, Melanie Quintero, in Eagle Creek.
Despite talking to family, the girl's doctor, preschool and others, 'based on the information available at the time, DHS was unable to confirm that neglect had occurred, and there was no evidence of physical abuse,' said Gene Evans, spokesman for the Department of Human Services.
Three days after Andie died, police arrested her father and Lúpe for murder.
The shocking truth
The police investigation filled 14 binders with 5,000 pages of evidence.
Andy and Lúpe beat the girl with a belt and hit her with their hands.
'He was the primary abuser,' Cobb said, adding that he also beat the girl with a back scratcher and a broom handle.
As punishment, he'd force Andie to do wall squats, kneel on hard surfaces, such as a tile or linoleum floor, for up to an hour. He'd make her kneel on a brick or uncooked rice on the floor. Or make her stand on her toes in the corner. When she couldn't endure the pain any more, he'd beat her.
The cold showers were Lúpe's idea, Schmidt said.
The rest, Andy came up with from watching television shows.
Perhaps most horrifying was his admission that he forced Andie to eat her own vomit as punishment for throwing up her food, which she did due to her medical condition, which made it difficult to eat solid foods.
Her ability to eat had improved enough for doctors to move her feeding tube to a port in her stomach. But Lúpe insisted Andie could eat on her own, Andie's paternal grandmother said, adding that Andie hadn't used the feeding tube for a least a year.
Andy even told Lupe's mother, Melanie Quintero, about making the girl eat vomit. But she didn't report it to authorities because she had no proof of it.
Melanie Quintero also told the detectives she walked in on Andie holding her own excrement in the bathroom with her father yelling at her. Andie had messed her pants.
'She's my child, I'll discipline her,' her father said, a common refrain according to relatives.
Quintero thought he was going to make Andie eat it and intervened.
She never reported the bathroom incident to authorities either. Again, she had no proof.
Plus, she was afraid of Andy.
Andy has denied making his daughter eat feces, and detectives are inclined to believe him. After all, Andy admitted to the vomit incident and to punching her in the stomach and ribs - in short, using his daughter as a punching bag when angry - Schmidt said. Why lie about one more horrible act?
He also admitted to kicking Andie in the thigh, breaking her femur. Then he'd kick her there again, targeting the area because he knew it would hurt more.
The abuse accelerated during the last 6 months of Andie's life.
And yet, the younger two children were never beaten.
'In fact, several witnesses said Lúpe told her family that she would leave Andy if he touched them,' Schmidt said.
The implication: She knew exactly what Andie was enduring and didn't care. She wasn't her child.
Melanie Quintero said her daughter was too afraid of Andy to alert child welfare about what he was doing to his daughter. She said Andy hit and threatened her daughter, causing her to move out shortly after giving birth to her daughter in early 2007.
But when the two met in a public place for the two girls to play, Andy reportedly threatened to kill himself and Andie if Lúpe did not come back to him, Melanie Quintero said.
When asked why a woman who has moved to a safe place with her newborn daughter would put them both in harm's way by returning to an abuser, Melanie Quintero had no explanation.
And why would Lúpe have another child with him? Their son was born in May 2009.
Again, no explanation
Both detectives say there is no evidence that Lúpe was a victim of domestic violence or threatened in any way.
There is evidence that some relatives knew about the torture Andie endured.
'And they turned a blind eye to it,' Schmidt said.
Too little, too late
Cobb and Schmidt still marvel that relatives either did not notice or failed to report the abuse to authorities. Andie's paternal grandfather said he called a child abuse hotline twice, thinking he was reporting it to authorities, but nothing ever came of it.
After Andie was killed, 'DHS did a second review of the 2009 investigation and a search for any other child abuse hotline calls of abuse/neglect for this child,' Evans said. 'Again, we found only that single report from 2009.'
Her paternal grandmother questions the validity of the investigation because she and her husband were never interviewed.
Lúpe, now 24, pleaded guilty Monday, March 14, to manslaughter for 'recklessly causing the death' of the girl 'by aiding and abetting Rosillo in his pattern' of torture and abuse. She also pleaded guilty to criminal mistreatment for whipping the girl with a belt. A judge sentenced her to 20 years in prison.
Andy, now 24, pleaded guilty Wednesday, March 16, to one count of murder by abuse. He is scheduled to be sentenced in April to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years.
Oleander's paternal grandparents are left reeling, grieving and blaming themselves for not doing more. They also can't understand how their son could do such vile things to anyone, yet alone his little girl.'
'My child didn't grow up in an abusive home,' Marrian said weeping. 'I don't know how a child of mine could do that to a poor little baby. All she wanted was for them to love her. She was just the kindest, most loving little girl.'
Detectives Cobb and Schmidt - along with all the police, prosecuting attorneys and medical professionals who worked on the case - are at a loss for why Andie endured such a cruel fate.
'One of the elements that makes it so sad is how targeted she was,' said Claudio Grandjean, sergeant of the detectives division. 'It wasn't like, 'I'm an abuser and I abuse everyone in my path.' It was just her. And what makes it more disturbing is by all accounts this was a sweet little girl. She wasn't particularly difficult.'
Cobb fully agrees.
'It tears you up,' Cobb said.
'The heinous nature, I can't even explain,' Schmidt said of the case. 'One of the things I still think about is the foster family in Washington. Except for them, she was failed in every part of her life.
'Unfortunately, she didn't have a chance.'
How to report abuse
• Gresham's child welfare office - 503-674-3610
• Multnomah County's child abuse hotline - 1-800-509-5439. Callers do not have to speak English or leave a name.
• For life-threatening emergencies - 9-1-1
• Names of callers who do reveal their identities are protected under state and federal law.