North Miss. sheriff says toddler’s death ruled a homicide

Published 7:08 pm Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The sheriff of north Mississippi’s Union County says the death of 2-year-old Enna Barreto has been ruled a homicide, and investigators are trying to decide whether her adoptive parents will face charges.

“We still don’t know what actually happened to this child,” Sheriff Tommy Wilhite said in a phone interview Tuesday night. “It’s one of the worst cases I’ve seen in my life.”

Sheriff’s deputies on Sunday raided the home of Janet and Ramone Barreto near New Albany after receiving a tip from doctors that the couple might have abused their daughter.

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Once at the home, law officers found more than 180 dogs, 25 cats and several ducks in various conditions. The animals’ numbers are expected to increase, because some of them continue to give birth.

Wilhite said the Barreto’s 2-year-old daughter was taken from a local hospital to Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn., for an unspecified reason. Doctors there suspected child neglect and tipped off Wilhite on Sunday night, when he got a warrant and raided the property.

The girl died Monday morning. Wilhite said Shelby County, Tenn., officials conducted an autopsy and told him Tuesday that the death had been ruled a homicide.

The sheriff said eight other children have been taken from the Barretos and put into foster care. He said the oldest is 17 and several of the others are younger than 5.

Wilhite said two of the children are Barreto’s biological children and the others apparently are from Guatemala or other countries, but some of the children from other places don’t have passports. Wilhite said it was unclear whether the Barretos had adopted all the children.

Janet and Ramone Barreto each faces seven counts of child neglect for the children who are in foster care.

In the investigation of what happened to the girl who died, “everybody’s pointing a finger at somebody else,” Wilhite said.

The animals are being taken care of by the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, which was called by the sheriff’s department Sunday night.

Animal shelter director Debbie Hood described the situation at the Barretos’ home as a puppy mill — a large-scale breeding operation where the puppies are sold for profit. There were Yorkies, English bulldogs, shi tzus, and pugs, and the dogs apparently were sold at northeast Mississippi flea markets.