Fayetteville couple arrested in child abuse case

Melissa Miranda (left) and Josue Tovias (right) face several charges following the investigation of child abuse against an 8-year-old boy.(Photos courtesy: Washington County Detention Center)

A Fayetteville couple is facing charges after police said an 8-year-old boy was handcuffed to furniture and denied food.

The victim's mother, 33-year-old Melissa Miranda, and her boyfriend, 28-year-old Josue Tovias, were arrested for second-degree domestic battery, aggravated assault, kidnapping, tampering with physical evidence, terroristic threatening, and endangering the welfare of a minor. Tovias also received the additional charge of permitting child abuse.

According to a probable cause affidavit, DHS contacted Fayetteville police to help investigate a hotline report regarding the 8-year-old victim.

Detectives then went to the child's elementary school and interviewed several staff members who said the boy's appearance had changed drastically over the last several months with his eyes and cheeks becoming sunken. School staff said he would steal food from other students, hoard food, and become emotional when eating. The school gave him an alternate eating schedule to help with his extreme hunger.

School staff also told police that the victim had been experiencing incontinence. However, when the school called Miranda, who is pregnant and has four other children, and Tovias to remedy the situation, the couple said he would have to spend the day in the nurse's office and did not bring him clean clothes.

The victim and a few of his siblings were taken to the Child Safety Center for interviews when authorities noticed the 8-year-old had a distended stomach, his chest and rib bones were visible, and his arms were extremely skinny.

On Friday, Miranda and Tovias complied with investigators' request and took the victim for medical screening for malnutrition and other forms of abuse.

At that time, detectives spoke with Miranda's 17-year-old daughter who let them hear an audio recording of Miranda apparently using aggressive and vulgar language when disciplining the 8-year-old over stolen candy. Investigators note in their report Miranda threatened to cut the child, abandon him in the cold, and have him arrested for stealing. Investigators could also hear something being struck repeatedly and hear Tovias talk to Miranda, indicating he was present at the time of the abuse.

Investigators then interviewed Miranda who said there was a period of several months the child did not eat dinner "on average" four nights per week after he complained about her cooking. She told authorities she would handcuff the victim to a school desk in their living room to keep him from eating "junk food" overnight when he did not want to eat her food. She said he was eventually made to sleep on a black trash bag after having bathroom accidents on the living room carpet while he was handcuffed.

The report also states Miranda admitted to threatening the victim in the recording and to putting a knife against him.

According to the report, she told all her children not to tell of the family's business, which is why they did not let authorities know about the abuse in earlier interviews. She also admitted to throwing the handcuffs away because of DHS contacting her earlier in the month.

When asked why didn't she disclose the information in earlier interviews, Miranda told authorities she was afraid of the consequences and knew she would go to jail.

Tovias, the father of Miranda's 5-year-old and her unborn child, refused to make a statement in the investigation and denied the allegations.

Miranda and Tovias were both arrested Saturday and taken to the Washington County Detention Center.

Authorities said the kids were released into DHS custody.

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