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Lots of trouble reported for years at home where girl was killed

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

When paramedics and officers were called to a brick, one-story house in Rio Rancho last Saturday regarding an unresponsive child, it was hardly their first time at the address.

Officers quickly determined that 6-year-old Ariana “Jade” Romeo was dead. Her death is being investigated as a homicide, and no one has been arrested.

And although police have said the child and her mother, Stephanie Romeo, had not been living at the house very long, the home’s history of troubles is well-documented by the police department.

Recently released dispatch logs show that, since 2009, officers, firefighters or paramedics have been called 35 times to the home in the 200 block of Moonstone, near N.M. 528 and Northern NE.

Police officers were called 26 times, the fire department five times and emergency medical services four times. Several different names are referenced over the years but there is little information about their relationships with the homeowners.

Reasons for the calls vary wildly, ranging from the collection of a found dog to domestic violence to a man who was reportedly coming down from a methamphetamine binge. Two of the calls involved custody disputes.

A spokesman for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department said Monday that the agency had not had any prior contact with Stephanie Romeo or Ariana, but the agency walked that back after more investigation Wednesday. Henry Varela now says CYFD has since found an allegation involving the Romeos made in Carlsbad last October. It was screened out and referred to law enforcement because it did not meet the department’s criteria for investigation.

Per state law, Varela could not give details of that call or say why it was screened out.

CYFD has investigated one person associated with the home in 2012, but no information about that investigation could be provided.

A man who lives there currently – and who court documents say was present when Ariana was found dead – has owned the house since at least 2009, according to online tax records.

Ariana “Jade’ Romeo, 6 (Courtesy of Ramona Tanner)

Saturday morning, officers called to the home for a “DOA” or dead on arrival, found Ariana in a makeshift bedroom converted from a garage. Officers said the home was in “total disarray” and Ariana was found on blood-stained sheets and with blood on her body. She wasn’t wearing underwear or pants.

The Office of the Medical Investigator found the girl had “damage” to her genitals but has not said how she died.

Many people were in the home when officers arrived, although a Rio Rancho Police Department spokesman has not said how many were there. Some were children, and the police department is working with CYFD to ensure their safety.

Capt. Ron Vigil said the case has taken time to develop because investigators have had to conduct multiple interviews, process lots of evidence and wait for an autopsy report to determine how Ariana died and whether any DNA was on her person or drugs were in her system.

“I understand the importance to the community to find a quick resolution, but we want to make sure we also come to the correct determination,” Vigil said Wednesday.

Just two months ago, police were called to the home for a domestic dispute after the caller’s daughter got in a fight with an ex-girlfriend. According to a criminal complaint filed in Rio Rancho Magistrate Court, the former couple started fighting at a local brewery and continued to fight all the way home.

The ex-girlfriend was charged with aggravated battery on a household member and kidnapping. It is unknown if either party was at the home when Ariana was killed.

In 2015, police went to the house to pick up a statement from someone who reported being a “witness to child abuse.” The details of that case were not provided.

In 2009, police were called to a domestic fight between two sisters-in-law.

In 2010, two different calls, several months apart, involved a child calling 911, then hanging up.

The fire department responded to a call in 2010 about an unattended fire pit left to burn all night.

And in September 2013, someone in the house called to say a man was wandering around their backyard “speaking in gibberish and refusing to leave.” Later comments on the call say the man was “going off meth binge.”

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