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Florida agency under fire for death

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – For four days, Florida child welfare investigators searched for missing 10-year-old twins. They made home and school visits, called the children’s father on his cell phone, talked to their mother and contacted relatives.

Now, agency officials are being slammed for one call they didn’t make: They never reached out to police.

By the time police were notified, the little girl, Nubia, was dead, wrapped in plastic bags in the back of her father’s exterminator truck parked alongside Interstate 95. Her brother, Victor, was in the front seat, coated in a toxic chemical with critical burns.

Their father was nearby on the ground, unresponsive and doused in gasoline in what he later told police was a futile attempt to kill himself.

Her death has reignited criticism against the state Department of Children and Families, an agency that overhauled its system a decade ago after a foster child was missing for more than a year before anyone realized.

A judge slammed investigators this week for not thoroughly working the case, and officials have called for an outside review.

Meanwhile, authorities focused their attention on the couple. Carmen and Jorge Barahona’s home was considered a crime scene as authorities investigate claims the couple starved their 10-year-old daughter and locked her and her brother in the bathroom with their feet and hands tied as punishment. It’s unclear how Nubia died, or how long she had been dead before her badly decomposing body was found Monday.

The couple, who adopted the twins from foster care in 2008, have been the focus of three abuse allegations in the past few years, but the agency said they were unfounded.

Jorge Barahona, 53, appeared in court Thursday, charged with aggravated child abuse for dousing the boy with the chemical and loading his dead daughter in the back of his exterminator truck. Later Thursday he was charged with attempted murder. He was held on $1 million bond and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Victor is in critical condition. Doctors are unsure of what chemical caused his burns, most of which were below the waist.

Child welfare officials tried to deflect claims Thursday they missed opportunities at several turns, looking for the twins in vain for days without alerting local police. DCF first started looking for the twins on Feb. 10 after someone called the abuse hotline.