MONROE Co., Ind. — Months before the 12-year-old son of circus promoters died in Indiana – emaciated and covered in bruises – investigators in their previous Florida hometown found no evidence of abuse.
A haunting photo shows 12-year-old Eduardo Posso sitting in a chair, smiling after investigators said they found no signs of abuse or neglect in December 2018. Eduardo died nearly 6 months later, and authorities say there is now evidence of extreme abuse.
Police arrested Eduardo's father, Luis Posso Jr., and stepmother, Dayana Medina Flores, Friday following the boy's death.
"Every time I tried, nobody would want to listen," Aurea Esmerlda Garcia, his mother, said.
Garcia said she didn't have custody of Posso, but tried to speak up when she thought something wasn't right.
"I went crazy. I didn’t show him anything, but I was thinking in my mind, 'what can I do? Oh my God I have to do something because this is not right,'" she said.
Investigators believe the family traveled promoting circuses and arrived in Bloomington, Indiana just days before his death. They said the family previously lived in Myakka City, Florida, a rural area of Manatee County. Garcia said she didn't know they had left.
“You know looking back at it, we feel very confident that we did everything that we could to find signs of abuse and neglect and they did not exist at that time," said Randy Warren, a public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. "Certainly nothing to the level of what would have occurred in his life in the last couple of weeks or months."
Warren said their office had investigated five allegations from different sources, including Eduardo's biological mother. They were in March 2017, September 2017, November 2017, February 2018 and November 2018.
Some incident reports showed concerns about bruises.
An incident report from September 2017 showed Luis Posso's mother as the reporting party. The report stated she complained Eduardo was hit several times on his head. Investigators stated during interviews with Eduardo and his parents it was stated he hit his cheek on his knee while trying to do a flip on the trampoline. Investigators wrote the case was unfounded, and no crime occurred.
Another incident report from November 2018 showed allegations Eduardo was hit in the face causing a bruise. The report states "this is a circus performer family. Investigation shows the child obtained the bruise during juggling practice. Case is unfounded."
Warren said multiple investigators found no signs of abuse or neglect.
"We go into the home do a very thorough investigation, checking the conditions of the home, looking at the attitude, mood of everyone that’s involved, those that are being accused, speaking extensively with the victim, with siblings, looking for physical evidence that matches whatever that claim is and in every one of these cases after thorough work they had no signs no marks no signs of neglect or abuse," he said.
Warren said the last time they saw him was at the conclusion of an investigation December 3 when the photo of him smiling, sitting in the chair was taken.
"The child Eduardo was able to talk to us and denied that there had been any abuse, he was seemingly healthy, seemingly happy," Warren said.
A spokesperson for the School District of Manatee County said that month Eduardo was withdrawn to be home schooled.
"So we just don’t know what happened from the time he moved in December to the time they reached your county in Indiana," Warren said.
Investigators with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said they were called to Bloomington Hospital last Friday where Eduardo was pronounced dead. His stepfather and mother had driven him there when he wasn't breathing. The coroner said he was bruised, severely emaciated and weighed only 50-55 pounds with zero percent body fat.
"We believe within the past year things seemed to have gotten more severe," Monroe County Detective Lt. Jennifer Allen said.
Authorities said during a search of the Bloomington motel room where Posso and Flores stayed with Eduardo and his other siblings, they found wrist and ankle restraints, chains and a dog training shock collar. They said they found images on a cellphone of him in restraints with a dog shock collar on his neck in the bathtub. Investigators said both denied withholding food. Investigators said Posso admitted to some sort of abuse but did not admit to using restraints.
Investigators said Indiana DCS wasn't involved until they called Friday.
Investigators said the other children in the home appeared to be in relatively good health. They were placed with child services.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least one in seven children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year. In 2017, it's estimated 1,720 children died from abuse and neglect.
"We know the dynamics that play into abuse are really complicated and often times people make reports and they feel like they're not followed up on or they feel like the outcome is not what they were hoping for I would encourage those people to continue to make those reports if they have those concerns," said Emily Perry, the executive director of Susie's Place Child Advocacy Centers.
Perry said signs of physical abuse can include marks and injuries that don't have a good explanation or in places where a child wouldn't typically bruise from playing or running around. Other signs can be children who are being isolated or who have significant changes in behavior.
"What we typically see in cases where maybe there's been abuse over an extended period of time, we see if there's been reports of concern and there hasn't been an effective intervention. There's times where that perpetrator may feel empowered by that, that they have ultimate control over that situation and no one will ever intervene or bring safety to that child. So we can see abuse escalate in those situations," Perry said. "It's another reason why you know kids need adults in their lives to be paying attention to them and need to continue to make those phone calls."
The question for Eduardo's mother now is what happened between the picture of him smiling and the day he died, and is it possible signs were missed?
"You have to see there’s something wrong there, just don’t go in and say, ‘oh you’re fine’ and that’s it," Garcia said.
Both Posso and Flores are expected to have initial hearings Friday. They're each behind bars on $500,000 bonds.