Miami Herald
Published Friday, March 10, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Police: Jealous mother torched teen

BY CHARLES RABIN AND KARL ROSS
crabin@herald.com

Jealousy pushed a 39-year-old mother to set her own daughter on fire -- the 15-year-old girl was having a relationship with her mother's boyfriend, Miami-Dade County police said Thursday.

The relationship so angered Maria Tarrago that when her daughter, Eva Marie Huezos, arrived home Dec. 6 with her mother's boyfriend in tow, police say Tarrago ordered her into the bathroom, poured gasoline on her head and lit her on fire.

``The defendant was upset with the relationship,'' Miami-Dade Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Andreu said.

Police refused to release the boyfriend's name or age, saying only that he has not been charged in the case.

Eva, a freshman at Southwest High, is recovering at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Rehabilitation Center with severe burns over 23 percent of her body. She lost most of both of her ears and is scarred on her face, neck and both forearms.

Eva's 9-year-old brother saw the whole thing but did not utter a word about what really happened, a family friend said Thursday.

Although Tarrago told everyone her daughter was accidentally burned in a kitchen mishap, her brother knew it was not true. He watched it happen, said Jean Shearin, 61, a family friend. The boy's father, Elides Tarrago, rents a house from Shearin. Elides Tarrago is Eva's stepfather.

``The little boy has held this in the whole time,'' she said. ``He is such a loving, outgoing boy, and I noticed his face changed the last few months.''

Elides and Maria Tarrago separated three years ago after being married for at least 10 years. Eva and her brother lived with Maria Tarrago in an apartment at 3855 SW 79th Ave. Elides lived in the family's modest home at 9740 SW 44th St.

At his home Thursday, Elides Tarrago was reluctant to discuss details. Eva's biological father lives in El Salvador.

``Everything I have to say, I've already said it to the detectives. This whole thing has been hard on my nerves,'' he said.

UNAWARE OF ABUSE

Elides Tarrago also said he was unaware of any history of abusive or violent behavior on his wife's part. His son came to live with him Monday and was doing as well as could be expected, he said.

Until Monday, Elides Tarrago knew only what police and hospital officials believed -- that Eva was accidentally burned by gasoline in the family's apartment. The story changed when Eva was finally able to speak and said she was not burned by accident.

Police said Eva had been unable to communicate because of the severity of her injuries. On Monday, Miami-Dade detectives began to investigate, searched the apartment and took Maria Tarrago in for questioning. A short time later, she confessed, police say.

Police charged her with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and great bodily harm and arson resulting in injury.

The Florida Department of Children and Families, which has taken Eva into protective custody, confirmed Thursday there had previous reports about the family.

KEPT UNDER WRAPS

``I'm not authorized to tell you about that prior history,'' District Administrator Charles Auslander said.

He did say his department would make an effort to contact Eva's father in El Salvador.

``What we do in any given case is, we are responsible for evaluating if the child can be reunited with one or more parents,'' Auslander said. ``We look for an appropriate relative. Otherwise this child will be sheltered and, after a trial for dependency, would become a foster child.''

Miami-Dade school officials said they knew little about Eva.

``Staff members from Southwest Miami Senior High were not aware of any problems the student was having at home. The student was only enrolled at the school for three months,'' Deputy School Superintendent Henry Fraind said in a fax to The Herald on Thursday.

Little more is known about Eva or her mother, who police say worked as a maid. No one living in the family's three-story apartment complex remembered Eva.

Only one neighbor recalled having a conversation with Maria Tarrago -- and that was back in December in the laundry area.

``She never mentioned her daughter,'' Torres said.

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald