Erika Jisela Miranda-Alvarez has been charged with capital murder after a 6-week-old girl was abducted following the “horrific” stabbing death of her mother.
The girl, Shamali Flores, had not been seen since December 19 when her mother, Carolina Flores, was found dead of multiple stab wounds at the Magnolia Cove Apartments in the Greenspoint neighborhood of Houston. Shamali was found safe on Thursday, police said.
Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a press conference that Miranda-Alvarez, 28, is friends with Carolina Flores’ brother, which is how she connected with the victim. Miranda-Alvarez had been pregnant and recently had a miscarriage, which she was trying to hide from her boyfriend, police said. The boyfriend, whose name wasn’t released, has not been charged, but remains under investigation, police said.
An Amber Alert spanning Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana had been issued and the FBI was involved in the search.
Police said Miranda-Alvarez and her boyfriend appeared to be trying to leave the area before they were taken into custody.
“This is a joyous occasion, because when a mother is brutally killed, you can’t bring her back,” Acevedo said. “Our detectives knew that when we walked in there. But once you know a baby was missing, there wasn’t a member of this department that didn’t want to recover that baby. There wasn’t a member of the FBI who didn’t want to recover the baby. So while we mourn for that mom that will never see her daughter grow up, she will never see her daughter walk, run for the first time, the first time her child says I love you, she’ll never get to see that, and on the flip side, that daughter will never get to hear all that stuff from her mother. But we brought her back.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police, Including a SWAT Team & the FBI, Swarmed the Apartment Complex Where Shamali Was Being Kept
Shamali Flores was found early Wednesday morning, unharmed, in a southwest Houston apartment, police said on Twitter. She was taken to a hospital to be examined as a precaution.
Shamali was found with Erika Jisela Miranda-Alvarez and her boyfriend about 1 a.m. when police, including patrol officers, a SWAT team and the FBI, along with Police Chief Art Acevedo, swarmed the Woodscape Apartments complex on South Gessner about 1 a.m. Acevedo said their investigation led them to the complex, but he did not go into detail about how they were led there.
Acevedo said detectives at the scene saw a “suspicious male and a female holding a newborn” outside their apartment, “possibly attempting to leave the area.” Acevedo said the detectives used pictures to quickly determine the child was Shamali.
“The baby is healthy. She was quickly transported to Texas Children’s Hospital for a full checkup,” Acevedo said. “We did that as a precautionary measure. We didn’t see any signs of abuse or injury, but we wanted to make sure that we had the health professionals check on baby Shamali. She is doing well and she is currently in the custody of CPS.”
Miranda-Alvarez was interviewed by homicide detectives and then charged with capital murder, Acevedo said.
“We’re ecstatic Baby Shamali Flores was found by our dedicated @houstonpolice guardians. Excellence of our understaffed team is second to none,” Police Chief Art Acevedo said on Twitter. “We look forward sharing more information later today. Although we mourn the loss of her mother Carolina, we celebrate her recovery.”
Acevedo said Wednesday night a $5,000 reward had been offered for information. It is not clear if anyone will be eligible to claim that reward.
“This woman deserves justice. Her family deserves justice. Her child deserves to be back home with her loved ones,” Acevedo said Wednesday evening at a press conference.
Acevedo said when they found Shamali and learned she was safe, “there was a lot of smiles, there were a lot of fist-bumping. It was a very joyous occasion for all of us when we saw that little angel just sitting there, doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. … It was a great moment. When you can find a silver-lining out of a tragedy like this, a young woman who was brutally murdered, you gotta take what you can. We were just really hopeful, we knew the baby, chances were, that she was still alive and the sooner we found her was better.”
2. Miranda-Alvarez Was Due to Give Birth in January & Told Her Boyfriend She Had Brought Shamali Home from the Hospital
Erika Miranda-Alvarez was supposed to give birth in January, Police Chief Art Acevedo said Thursday at a press conference. He said she had a miscarriage at some point and did not share that with anyone, including her boyfriend. She “continued to pretend she was pregnant.”
Miranda-Alvarez then pretended to give birth, and on December 19 showed up at her boyfriend’s apartment with Shamali, saying that it was her baby. She told her boyfriend that she had given birth at the hospital and had just taken her baby home, according to Acevedo.
“This woman was due to have a baby in January and she lost that baby,” Acevedo said. “She continued to fake that pregnancy with loved ones and then on December 19 she went to the home of our victim and brutalized and murdered her.”
Acevedo said Miranda-Alvarez had told family and her boyfriend that she had given birth at the hospital, but that the baby was ill. “Then lo-and-behold, on December 19, she showed up with a baby and pretended that it was hers,” he said.
Miranda-Alvarez, like Carolina Flores, came to the United States from Honduras about five years ago, Acevedo said. She was friends with Flores’ family, including her brother.
“I think they all came to this country about five years ago,” Acevedo said. “She befriended the victim’s brother, that’s how she got to know the victim’s family, and she has been an acquaintance to the family, and to an extent friends of the family, for about five years now.”
Acevedo said Flores likely felt comfortable around Miranda-Alvarez. There were no signs of a break-in and police believe Flores let Miranda-Alvarez into her apartment.
3. Miranda-Alvarez Could Face the Death Penalty on the Capital Murder Charge
Police Chief Art Acevedo said capital murder is the most serious charge in Texas, and Miranda-Alvarez could face the death penalty if convicted.
It is not clear if she will face any other charges, such as kidnapping. Acevedo said that will be determined by the district attorney’s office. Acevedo said Miranda-Alvarez’s boyfriend has not yet been cleared and could still be charged.
The police chief said the investigation is ongoing.
“The real work now really continues for our investigators,” Acevedo said. “They need to piece together every single piece of this complex puzzle to make sure that we not only have an arrest and a charge, but we have a conviction. We owe that to the family of this little baby, to her older brothers and sisters, she has three of them and we obviously we owe it to the deceased victim and her extended family.”
4. Carolina Flores Was Remembered as a ‘Hard-Working Woman’ With 2 Jobs to Care for Her Family
Carolina Flores, 33, was found dead December 19 inside an apartment she shared with multiple family members at the Magnolia Cove Apartments in the 180 block of Goodson. Police said a family member found on the floor, unresponsive with multiple stab wounds, the Houston Chronicle reports.
“The murder and kidnapping happened between 6:30 and 10:30 a.m.,” Police Chief Art Acevedo said.
Police initially believed Shamali was 11 months old, but after locating a birth certificate inside the apartment, determined she is only 6 weeks old. They also corrected her name after finding that document after initially calling her Shanally. Others have called the girl Chamali Flores, but police say Shamali is her legal name.
Shamali’s father was initially listed in the Amber Alert as a person of interest. He was named in the alert as Thomas Bernardez, but authorities now say that was an alias and the 34-year-old father’s real name is Marcos Mariano Thomas Palacios. He was located late Tuesday in San Antonio and police do not believe he was involved in the abduction and killing.
“He was forthright and cooperative,” Police Chief Art Acevedo said. “He’s been helpful and the investigation continues.”
Police had also been searching for a vehicle they believed belonged to Shamali’s father, but they said that is also not believed to be connected to the crime.
Shamali’s father did not live in the apartment with his daughter and Carolina Flores, and authorities have not disclosed information about his relationship with his daughter.
Flores’ family told KSAT-TV that she moved to the United States from Honduras about five years ago for a better life. She was the mother of three children, including Shamali, and also cared for her niece and nephew. The other children were not harmed and are not missing.
“She was very kind, lovable, she was just a person that she was the light in the room, oh, Carolina and for this to happen is just, I just wish it didn’t happen,” her cousin, Jenny Lopez, told the news station.
Lopez told KSAT, “She had just had the baby. We had talked, she had just called me Sunday to check on me and I could hear it in her voice that it wasn’t her but I didn’t ask no questions, I didn’t think anything was wrong.”
Carolina Flores worked at two jobs to care for her family, ABC News reports. She worked at a local hotel and as a caregiver. Friends and family told the news station that she was a “hard-working woman.”
Police Chief Art Acevedo said Carolina Flores’ life was “brutally ended,” inside the apartment.
5. The Police & FBI Theory About the Case Proved to Be True, Chief Acevedo Said
Police said nothing was taken from the apartment. They said Wednesday evening that they had a theory that the baby was possibly taken by a woman who recently lost a child. If that is the case, the woman could be posing as Shamali’s mother. While it is just a theory, Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters that the circumstances in this case matched similar ones around the country where young children have been abducted.
Acevedo said Thursday morning that the theory proved to be true, and congratulated his officers and their FBI partners for “phenomenal” work.
“A theory was developed early on about motive. This proved to be accurate,” Acevedo said Thursday at a press conference. “The part of the theory about someone knowing the complex, someone knowing the family, some other key information we were able to gather, they were able to get information that it was someone who knew the complex, knew the family, was familiar with the area. Everything that our outstanding investigators theorized turned out to be true. But a pick part of that relied upon community policing, upon community trust.”
The night before, Acevedo and the FBI explained their theory.
“We really believe based on what we’ve seen so far that this suspect who has this child is familiar with this family and familiar with this neighborhood. And we want the public to know that because we want the public to know what they should be looking for. The individual is also familiar with the Greenspoint area,” Acevedo said Wednesday night. “The individual who abducted Shamali may be a woman who has or will present the child as her own, and may even indicate the child was recently born.
“The public needs to really think about, especially in this area, think about anyone who all of a sudden has a child that you weren’t aware they were pregnant. Also think about people that may have lost a child recently. Women or families that may have lost a child recently. That may be someone that we may be interested in talking to,” Acevedo said.
“That is a theory of investigators,” he said of the idea that a woman took Shamali and is pretending to be her mother. “Based on a lot of similar cases throughout the country, frequently that’s a possibility. A lot of times when these incidents happen, when someone is brutally murdered, people always think about men. And they don’t realize that women are just as capable of committing murders, especially a woman who has lost a baby or has emotional issues.”
The FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Response Team was assisting in the search, officials from the bureau’s Houston office said Wednesday.
Douglas Williams, the Assistant Special-Agent-in-Charge for the FBI in Houston, told reporters Wednesday night, “Today, the FBI is here with our partners, the Houston Police Department, with the sole mission of returning baby Shamali to the Flores family. As the Chief had mentioned, the FBI has deployed our Rapid Abduction Response team, which is a group of experts across the country that have significant experience in doing child abduction cases, they’re on ground here in Houston now.”
Williams added, “this is simply a theory right now that we have of a possible for an abduction. But we wanted to get our point across that the individual who may have abducted baby Shamali may be a woman, who has or will present the child as her own and may even indicate the child was born recently. However, the infant is not a newborn, the infant is six weeks old. So we’re just asking the community to keep an eye out for things that may seem abnormal in that area.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, police were using bloodhounds around the apartment complex where Carolina Flores was killed in an effort to locate Shamali.
Police spent most of the day Tuesday and Wednesday at the apartment complex while searching.
At a press conference Wednesday night, Acevedo said some members of the Hispanic community who live in the area where the homicide and abduction occurred or who might have information about the case could be fearful about coming forward due to concerns about police.
“We’re not interested in anybody’s immigration status,” Acevedo told reporters. “We’re just interested in justice. … If you heard anything, saw anything suspicious, please contact HPD’s homicide division or CrimeStoppers.”
Acevedo held up a picture of Carolina Flores and implored members of her community to help. “I just want you to see the face of this woman who was taken from us in a brutal homicide and we really believe that someone, somewhere has information. In this holiday season and this Christmas season, when we think about what we’re celebrating this weekend, you need to ask yourself what’s required of us. And what’s required of us is to come forward with information.”
He also held up a picture of Shamali, saying “this little baby … needs to be back with her family. So please, please, please, come forward.”
Authorities ask anyone with information was asked to call the Houston Police Department at 713-308-3600.
Acevedo reiterated his message to the Hispanic community on Thursday, saying that both of the complexes, where Carolina Flores was killed and where Shamali was found, are “predominately Hispanic, predominately immigrant” complexes.
“We know that, as we’ve said time and again, the challenges for law enforcement,” Acevedo said. “We try to divide especially local law enforcement, and even the FBI, whose primary mission is public safety and homeland security, and criminal investigations, not immigration enforcement, it makes it challenging some times. But in this case we’ve worked really diligently as a police department to continue to build bridges with our community. We have a mayor and council who talk about how welcoming our city is and that people, regardless of their immigration status, are welcome here, the police department is going to focus on going after criminals.”
Acevedo said the theories were developed through interviews with members of the community who trusted officers from the “very diverse” police department.
“But for our ability to be able to build that relationship, to tear down the mistrust, to try to get people out of the shadows and into the light and try to be full participants as it relates to our collective safety, we want to develop those theories early on,” he said.