Clovis police believe this house at 700 E. 10th St. in Clovis was the site of numerous sexual assaults against children. (File photo)
By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
It was an innocent note to a classmate, a few lines of sympathy from a third-grader devastated his friend was being sexually abused.
“I’m so sorry that I couldn’t help you from being raped and stop it,” Zachary Padilla wrote to his female friend at Parkview Elementary. “Just know that I care for you very much.”
Liza Marquez, Zachary’s mother, said she and the boy’s grandmother found the letter in his room before he had a chance to deliver it. Soon after, news became public about a case alleging the sexual molestation of 18 preteens at a home at 700 E. 10th St. in Clovis. Police told Marquez that Zachary’s note was key in breaking open the investigation.
One year later, Anastacio A. Esquibel, 22, Harry Robbs, 41, and Billy Martin, 50, are still incarcerated on charges related to the alleged abuse. Robbs and Martin are scheduled to go to jury trial within the next seven months. District Judge Teddy Hartley will decide on Oct. 22 whether Esquibel is competent to stand trial.
Marquez said after finding her son’s note, she spoke with him in detail. Then she gave the letter to the principal at Parkview Elementary.
She said she hasn’t told her son what happened after that, but plans to tell him when he matures.
Marquez now lives with her son in El Paso, Texas.
Initially, the girl told Zachary details about what she said was happening to her at the home. That night, Zachary asked his mother if the girl could spend the night.
When Marquez told her son no, she said Zachary “threw a fit.”
“He was real insistent about it,” Marquez said. “He was real protective of her. Even now, he’s a protector of all the girls at school.”
Marquez said soon after she informed school officials about the note, former Parkview Principal Linda D’Amour called her into school and showed her newspaper reports confirming the arrests of Esquibel and Martin.
“I just broke down and cried,” Marquez said.
D’Amour said last year she was pleasantly surprised by how the school district, police, and public responded to the case. She credited the district’s “good touch, bad touch” curriculum with helping a young victim decide to trust school staff in reporting the sexual abuse.
The curriculum was put in place because of incidents involving sexual abuse in which two teachers — former Yucca Junior High School band teacher Paul Duran and former Zia Elementary teacher Lloyd Sperry — were arrested for sexually abusing their students.
Sperry, 48 at the time of his 2001 arrest, was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in prison for abusing nine students in his classroom.
In 2002, Duran pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts for his involvement with a 15-year-old female student.
“What we know is children tell parents things like that all the time, and if it’s another family member, they don’t always want to believe someone would do that to their child. So often kids tell us at school and that’s why we train all of our adults as well as our kids,” said Rhonda Sparks, director of nursing and health services for Clovis schools.
Sparks said teachers and students grades K-12 are taught how to handle sexual abuse situations. She said about 90 percent of the students participate in the program; the ones who don’t are opted out of the program by their parents, she said.
Sparks said most of the time abusers are people children know and love; less often are they strangers.
District Attorney Brett Carter said more reports of sexual abuse of children have surfaced in recent years, and a reason may be that officials encourage anonymous reporting.
“I think people are just waking up and realizing this has an extremely detrimental impact on the children, plus people know if they don’t report it it’s likely to continue,” Carter said.
In last year’s incident, Carter said Martin and his wife Jeanette — who is charged with abuse of a child and has since bonded out of jail and faces trial early next year — were baby-sitting the children from their home at 700 E. 10th St.
Robbs and Esquibel were living at the home, which had no electricity or running water, Carter said.
Public Defender Calvin Neumann said his office is representing Martin, but not Robbs due to a conflict of interest. Neumann said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on either case.
Esquibel’s private attorney, Morris Stagner, declined comment on the case.
Carter said it’s extremely important for parents to reference-check people they allow to watch their children.
“I’m not sure how these guys earned the parents’ trust,” Carter said. “Parents need to get familiarity with the people they leave their children with. They definitely need to at least walk through the house.”