ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The toy monkey was scruffy and threadbare in spots, cuddled and clutched and squeezed as if the stuffed animal were the little girl’s lifeline.
In many ways, it was that.
She held on to the monkey when things got bad, when she hurt. She took it with her when she was interviewed by law enforcement and lawyers, its gangly arms wrapped around her neck. When their questions revived the memories of the trauma she had endured for nearly half her 10 years, she gripped the monkey tighter, buried her tear-stained face in its matted brown fur.
But she was brave. And she told them what had happened to her at the hands of a relative’s boyfriend. And because of what she said, because those who heard her believed her, that man is going to prison.
She called him Dad.
But we shall call him monster.
Last week, Manuel Alarcon, 37, of Albuquerque pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual penetration of a child and three counts of criminal sexual contact of a child, far fewer charges than the 23 he had been indicted on in April 2017 and far less indicative of the horrors he had committed on the little girl nearly every day of her life for 4½ years beginning when she was 3 or 4.
Alarcon faces 18 to 90 years in prison and a lifetime as a registered sex offender. Sentencing is set for Aug. 9 before state District Judge Benjamin Chavez in Albuquerque.
Prosecutors say the little girl had been taken in by a relative in Albuquerque after her mother was incarcerated and her four siblings were split apart. Alarcon, described as a gang member and a mooch with a slim employment record and a substantial criminal record, often took care of the girl. That’s when he preyed upon her.
“He was very opportunistic,” prosecutor Daniel Roberson said.
He was also very malevolent. Alarcon encouraged the girl to think of him as her dad. In her young life, she had never known what it was like to have a father. But a father does not molest his daughter. A father does not threaten to kill her if she tells anybody, as prosecutors alleged Alarcon did.
It took the relative catching him in the act to stop the abuse.
After his arrest April 18, 2017, by the U.S. Marshals Service Southwest Investigative Fugitive Team, Alarcon gave a gruesome and explicit confession but refused to accept a plea. That meant preparing the little girl to take the stand and step back into her nightmare. Roberson said she cried just at the mention of Alarcon’s name.
And still she persisted.
“Some children are so affected by what happened to them that they can’t talk about it, can’t testify,” he said. “But she was ready to do it.”
She didn’t have to testify after all when Alarcon agreed to the plea May 21. But because of her courage, the District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque presented the little girl with the first-ever certificate of bravery, a small token of its admiration for the little girl with the toy monkey.
“Shortly, everyone will hear the success for the prosecution side, but this was a win for our lovely, bold, courageous, BRAVE, young 10-year-old,” Crystal Rubio, victim-witness assistant, wrote in a staff memo. “This young lady refuses to be a victim and through a lot of sexual abuse … is a survivor.”
Rubio credited Roberson, fellow prosecutor Theresa Romero, staff members Dia’Monique Thompson, Chris Kittrell and others for supporting the little girl through her ordeal. But she saved the best appreciation for LaShai, the little girl’s eldest sister. She was a high-achieving student at the University of New Mexico when her little sister was living with the relative. She had not been aware of the evil that lurked in the home.
“She was furious when she found out,” Roberson said.
LaShai, about 25 and now working on her master’s degree at another university, has credited the success, stability and direction in her life to a woman who long ago stepped in as a mother to her to encourage her, protect her, love her. Today, she is that woman stepping in as a mother for her little sister.
The little girl is thriving now because of her big sister, Rubio said.
“She has done well in school because of her sister LaShai,” Rubio wrote in the memo. “She’s in counseling because of her sister LaShai. She’s a happy kid because of her sister LaShai. LaShai has also taken on the responsibility of caring for her teenage sister as well. She’s going to college, working and showing her sisters that there is more that life offers than pain and suffering all the other adults showed them.”
The little girl now lives out of state with her sisters. I’m told she still has the toy monkey. These days, she doesn’t have to hold on quite as tightly. She’s got other lifelines now.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.