The Illinois child and family welfare agency substantiated neglect allegations last November against a suburban Chicago couple accused of tying up two of their young children on Wednesday in a west Lawrence Walmart parking lot.
Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family, said Friday in December the department opened a supportive services case working with the family of Adolfo Gomez Jr. and Deborah M. Gomez after the allegations were substantiated. The children were not removed from the home as part of the case, and it was closed in April, he said.
Douglas County prosecutors Thursday filed two counts of child abuse each and other felony counts against the couple after Lawrence police Wednesday morning discovered a 5-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl blindfolded with their hands and feet bound near the family’s vehicle outside Walmart, 550 Congressional Drive.
A customer had called officers at 10:30 a.m. after noticing the boy was bound while outside the older Chevrolet Suburban that did not have a license plate. Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence police spokesman, said police later discovered the boy and girl were blindfolded and bound and that Adolfo Gomez resisted officers before they used a Taser to subdue him. Officers detained Deborah Gomez inside the store without incident.
Three of the couple’s older children, ages 12, 13 and 15, were inside the vehicle but not bound, and they were taken into protective custody later as were the two younger children. Police say the Gomez family had driven from Northlake, Ill., attempting to make it to Arizona, but after experiencing vehicle problems on Interstate 70 Monday evening the family ended up on the west side of the parking lot until Wednesday’s encounter with police.
Prosecutors accuse Adolfo and Deborah Gomez of inflicting “cruel or inhumane corporal punishment” on the two younger children and also recklessly causing or permitting their five children to be placed in a situation in which their “life, body or health may be endangered.” Few other details have been made public beyond the police accounts.
Adolfo Gomez faces a felony obstruction count alleging he resisted officers.
The couple remained at Douglas County Jail Friday in lieu of $50,000 bond each. If they post bond, the Gomezes are prohibited from having contact with the five children as well as each other.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said Friday the couple’s five children are in protective custody. According to information from Branson’s office, in Kansas if a law enforcement officer deems a child to be at risk or the victim of abuse or neglect, the officer has authority to take the child into protective custody. After no later than 72 hours, a judge must hear the matter as part of a temporary custody hearing, which is closed to the public.
Cheryl Wright, a spokeswoman for Branson’s office, said if children were taken into protective custody on Wednesday, the custody hearing could be held on Monday because the 72-hour lapse would occur on a weekend.
During the period before the hearing workers with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and others make efforts to determine the best situation for the children, including identifying any possible relatives who might be willing, able and suitable temporary caretakers.
“Generally, it is not possible to immediately place a child with a relative who resides in a state different from the one in which the child is being held in protective custody, and foster care becomes necessary until there has been coordination between states to permit the placement with the relative in the different state,” Wright said.
Marlowe, the spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said as protocol the department can coordinate efforts with child welfare authorities in other states.
“A large body of research now shows that children fare better when they maintain their ties to family,” he said. “And we always look first to relatives when we need to place children.”
McKinley said extended family members have contacted Lawrence police after seeing news about the case, which has received national attention.
As for the criminal case against Adolfo and Deborah Gomez, they are scheduled to appear with their appointed attorneys Thursday afternoon in front of District Judge Paula Martin. The judge likely will schedule a future preliminary hearing on Thursday.
McKinley said Friday detectives were working with prosecutors to learn more about the incident including why the two younger children were tied up.
In addition to the neglect allegation substantiated in Illinois last year, the couple has faced other legal problems in the past including 1998 convictions for leaving two young boys ages 3 and 2 home alone at night in Naperville, Ill., while both parents worked night shifts, according to DuPage County court records in Illinois and the Chicago Tribune.
A neighbor also told an NBC affiliate in Chicago Thursday she encountered Adolfo and Deborah Gomez last week before their attempt at a cross-country trip as they were selling all of their belongings in preparation for the end of the world. McKinley said police believe they were attempting to visit family in Arizona before the vehicle broke down.