Heartbroken mother speaks out about daughter's death and alleged abuse
RICHMOND, Calif. - The mother of the 11-year-old girl in Rodeo who died after suffering abuse allegedly at the hands of her father and stepmother is speaking out publicly for the first time.
She tells KTVU she gave up her parental rights six years ago to protect her daughter, never imagining that the child's own father would be accused of torturing her.
Sandra Garcia wants answers and justice for her daughter Annai.
"She was always happy and they took that from her," says Garcia as she holds the poster board she made with photos of her daughter; memories of a happier time.
There is a memorial in Garcia's bedroom for the 11-year-old.
"I'm angry at myself. I'm angry at them. I feel sometimes it's my fault too because I didn't fight for her," says Garcia.
Annai was living with her father Rene Diaz and her stepmother Crystal when she died in their home in Rodeo March 23.
The couple has been charged with torture, mayhem and child abuse after authorities discovered signs of abuse including burns and bruises on Annai.
"What were they doing? Did they just watch her die?" says Garcia.
She gave birth to Annai when she was 16 while she was in a relationship with Diaz.
She says they split up soon after and that Annai lived with her until she was five.
Garcia says she gave up custody to the couple when she was trying to get out of a relationship with a man who was abusing drugs.
"Thinking they were going to take care of her and love her like I did," Garcia says, "In social media, in all the pictures, she was always happy."
Garcia says she kept tabs on Annai with photos provided by the girl's paternal grandmother but that the couple didn't allow her to see her daughter.
"He was the dad. Why didn't he protect her? Supposedly, he took her to protect her," says Garcia.
The home where the abuse allegedly took place now sits vacant. A small memorial for the girl still stands.
Neighbor Nikki Donohue-Jones says she found a t-shirt with Annai's name among the items discarded. She plans to give it to the girl's mother.
"It once belonged to a little girl that's getting forgotten. I don't want her to get forgotten," says Donohue-Jones.
Garcia says she moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Richmond in February, after saving money for two years working at a supermarket.
She had hoped to have a home suitable to re-unite with Annai.
"I want them to pay. I want them to suffer everything my daughter suffered," says Garcia.
Rene and Crystal Garcia have pled not guilty. They're due back in court next Monday.
The prosecutor says he's waiting for test results that could determine whether the couple will also be charged with killing Annai.