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CT child advocate calls death of toddler buried in park a ‘preventable tragedy’ as father faces more charges

CT child advocate calls death of toddler buried in park a ‘preventable tragedy’ as father faces more charges

A Connecticut man is facing additional criminal charges in connection with his 2-year-old son’s death, more than a year after the toddler was found dead and buried in a park.

Edgar Ismalej-Gomez, 28, was charged this week with cruelty to persons, hindering prosecution, risk of injury to a minor, criminal violation of a protective order, conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence and two counts of tampering with evidence, according to Capt. Thomas Scanlon of the Stamford Police Department.

A new arrest warrant for Ismalej-Gomez details the days leading up to and following the death of Liam Rivera, when police allege that Ismalej-Gomez and the boy’s mother allowed a criminal protective order to be violated, did not seek medical help despite the boy being malnourished and conspired to tamper with evidence by hiding and burying the child’s body.

CT father facing upgraded charges in death of 2-year-old son found buried in Stamford park

In light of the new charges, the state Office of the Child Advocate is speaking out about the boy’s death, calling it “a devastating and preventable tragedy” and a case that brings forth a chance for change.

“Liam’s death is a call to action on behalf of children that cannot speak up for themselves,” said Child Advocate Sarah Eagan.

Preventing another tragedy

Eagan said her office is advocating for policies and legislation that will help prevent similar tragedies in the state, including support for a bill that recently passed the Connecticut House of Representatives and will soon go to a vote in the Connecticut Senate.

“A 2-year-old child, entirely dependent on others to ensure his safe care, had his life taken from him,” Eagan said. “We are supportive of all efforts to ensure accountability for his death and prevent other harms to children in the future.”

The OCA worked collaboratively with the Connecticut Department of Child and Families, the Office of the Chief Public Defender and the Judicial Branch, to draft the legislation, which Eagan said “will improve safety and accountability for children like Liam in the future.”

Rivera was under the protection of multiple state-funded systems at the time of his death, which the OCA has previously said “collectively did not ensure his safety and wellbeing.”

The boy had an open child protection case with DCF and the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters and was under court-ordered protective supervision. Ismalej-Gomez was on adult probation supervision after being sentenced to 60 days in prison for assault on the child, who suffered a broken bone that an investigation found was the result of abuse.

How it happened

Ismalej-Gomez’s latest arrest warrant affidavit suggests that it was that prison sentence which may have motivated the killing in an attempt for revenge.

Ismalej-Gomez allegedly told the boy’s mother, Iris Rivera-Santos, that “she was going to pay for all the things she had done to him,” and that “she was going to cause her the same pain that his mother felt, when he went to jail,” the warrant affidavit said.

According to the warrant affidavit, the boy’s mother told police that Rivera had been crying a lot the night he died, likely due to a soiled diaper.

The crying, she said, angered his father. She alleged that she saw Ismalej-Gomez “hitting the victim in order to stop him from crying.”

“(Rivera-Santos) witnessed Ismalej strike the victim multiple times. The victim went quiet after this and (Rivera-Santos) believed the victim had fallen asleep,” the warrant affidavit said.

Mother of 2-year-old found buried in Stamford park charged with tampering with evidence and risk of injury to a child

The next morning, Rivera-Santos told police, she asked Ismalej-Gomez to wake the boy for breakfast, but he allegedly told her he would not wake up.

“(Rivera-Santos) saw that the victim was not breathing and was cold to the touch, pale with his eye partially opened,” police said in the warrant affidavit. She allegedly begged the boy’s father to call police, but he allegedly refused “because the victim was already dead and there was nothing that could be done,” according to the warrant affidavit.

Ismalej-Gomez changed the boys diaper and dressed him in his pajamas, the warrant affidavit said. He then alleged put the body in the truck and “grabbed an old shovel from the shed in the back of the property.”

Then, the parents allegedly went together to a nearby park, where Rivera-Santos “watched Ismalej dig a grave and bury the victim’s body,” according to the warrant affidavit.

Police allege that Ismalej-Gomez conspired with Rivera to tamper with physical evidence by hiding and burning the body. Then, they alleged he hid his vehicle to prevent it from being found by police, discarded evidence in trash cans and attempted to flee the city, according to the warrant affidavit.

Rivera-Santos later told her attorney what had allegedly happened and met with police, who she led to Cummings Park. It was there that Rivera was found in a black plastic bag buried in a shallow grave on Jan. 2, 2023.

A medical examiner ruled the boy’s death a homicide caused by blunt force injury to his head, officials said.

Ismalej-Gomez was named a person of interest shortly after the boy’s body was found and was located in a taxi that night and arrested on an unrelated violation of probation charge, court records show.

Rivera-Santos was arrested in February 2023 and charged with intentional cruelty to persons, risk of injury to a minor, tampering with evidence and third-degree hindering prosecution in connection with the boy’s death

Systemic failures

An investigation into Rivera’s death found that DCF and the state’s judicial branch failed to follow procedures that were in place to protect Rivera following multiple documented incidents of abuse and neglect. Before Rivera was found, a report from the Office of the Child Advocate found that there were multiple documented incidents of Rivera being abused, maltreated and malnourished.

Rivera was just 17 pounds when he was found — five pounds less than his weight at his last check-up, which had already concerned doctors, the report said.

The Department of Children and Families said last year that their last contact with the family was a home visit about one week prior to Rivera’s death, during which Rivera and his siblings were assessed to be safe.

In the aftermath of Rivera’s death, DCF said that they initiated their Continuous Quality Improvement process to evaluate their work and identify areas for improvements.

The department said they were working to enhance their work with undocumented families, identifying and assessing children’s failure to thrive, and reinforcing in-person family contact following the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other focus areas.

A spokesperson for DCF said this week that they had no further comment while the case was pending.

Rivera-Santos is scheduled to appear in court next on May 31.

Ismalej-Gomez is being held in lieu of a $1 million bond on the new charges and a $3 million bond on the initial charges that have been pending since January 2021, court records show.

He is being held at the Cheshire Correctional Institute, according to Department of Correction records. He is scheduled to appear in court next in Stamford on May 28.

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