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Lots of evidence, no charges in child’s death

It’s been a week and a half since 6-year-old Ariana “Jade” Romeo was found dead in a Rio Rancho home, with evidence suggesting she had been sexually assaulted and killed. Detectives and prosecutors say they are not ready to charge anyone.

Barbara Romo, deputy district attorney for the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said she has two prosecutors working closely with Rio Rancho Police Department detectives as they examine evidence and interview the people who were in the home the morning of Aug. 11, when Ariana was found dead.

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

“I think at any given time there were as many as seven people in the house,” Romo said.

Police have said the little girl and her mother had not been living at the home in the 200 block of Moonstone NE, near Northern and N.M. 528, for very long and their relationship to the homeowners is unclear.

Ariana’s mother was at the scene when officers arrived and has been interviewed. RRPD spokesman Capt. Ron Vigil said detectives have not identified a suspect in the case.

“I know it takes its toll not only on victims’ family and the community, but also on officers who are working diligently on the case,” Vigil said. “But we’re still working on this investigation.”

A search warrant inventory lists children’s clothing, bedding, sex toys, electronics and rope found in the home but does not say if police found a potential murder weapon. Detectives are waiting for the Office of the Medical Investigator to determine how Ariana was killed, if drugs or alcohol were in her system and if DNA evidence is on her body.

Romo pointed to the small size of the police department – it is budgeted for 135 officers – and a busy past month as another factor affecting the investigation.

“It’s a tedious process; there’s a lot to do,” she said. “I’m not trying to make excuses for them, but they are a very small force and they have a lot on their plate right now.”

The investigation into 10-year-old Victoria Martens’ death in Albuquerque two years ago proceeded much more quickly. In that case, police and prosecutors charged three suspects, including Victoria’s mother, less than 24 hours after the girl was discovered to have been raped and killed.

However, much of the case fell apart after additional evidence was discovered. Only one of the suspects is still charged with murder.

In response to questions about whether lessons learned in the Albuquerque case had any bearing on the Rio Rancho case, Romo said she thinks their investigators aren’t treating Ariana’s death any differently than any other case involving a child.

“We have a set protocol of certain things we expect them to do before we have enough information to make a charging decision,” Romo said. “Certainly, we don’t want the same thing to happen to any of our cases, and this one especially, that happened in the Victoria Martens case.”