The young woman accused of suffocating her 4-year-old niece was “like her second mother,” the victim’s grandmother said Wednesday.
“She raised her for the first two years,” said Dora Coronado, grandmother of the dead girl and mother to the accused killer, Santa Cristina Pablo, 20, who was arrested on suspicion of homicide Tuesday morning.
Family members identified the dead girl as Sophia Mae Caraveo.
She was our princess. Everywhere she would go, she would bring everybody up. She was loved by everybody.
Dora Coronado, grandmother of Sophia Mae Caraveo
Coronado said she does not know why her daughter would kill her own niece.
“I have no idea,” she said. “That’s everybody’s question – why?”
Coronado said she believes her daughter was suffering from undiagnosed mental health problems starting a month ago or so.
“She was always outgoing,” she said of Pablo. But of late, “she wasn’t herself.”
Coronado said she made an appointment with Tulare County Mental Health for an evaluation of her daughter for April 18, but she had the date moved up to April 10 because it seemed that her daughter’s condition was worsening.
Her daughter may have been experiencing depression, she said.
Sophia lived in Lindsay with her mother, Dora Pablo, 19 – the suspect’s younger sister – but was spending the night at her grandmother’s home when police say she was killed.
Sophia was a preschool student at Lincoln Elementary in Lindsay. Lindsay Unified officials did not return a phone call Wednesday.
The girl’s mother was too distraught to speak by phone with a reporter on Wednesday.
Coronado described Sophia as a favorite in the family.
“She was our princess,” Coronado said. “Everywhere she would go, she would bring everybody up. She was loved by everybody.”
Sophia’s uncle, Oscar Coronado, 17, described her as “energetic and happy.” He said he had spent the night at a friend’s house and learned what had happened to his niece when his mother called him.
The family is depressed and confused by the events, he said. He said his sister did not use illegal drugs.
The family is originally from Lindsay. He said he moved to Porterville with his mother and his sister about a year and half ago. He’s the youngest of four siblings.
Pablo worked at a packing house in Lindsay about a year ago but had quit, Oscar Coronado said.
The alleged homicide occurred in a home in the 200 block of South G Street, where chain-link fences surround the front yards of most homes, and many residents speak only Spanish.
“It’s very sad,” said a neighbor who would not give her name. She said she learned about the incident from a television report. Another neighbor said she saw a lot of police cars in the area but was too busy caring for her own children to find out what was going on.
Porterville police Capt. Jake Castellow said the case will be submitted to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday.
We are still looking into motive.
Porterville police Capt. Jake Castellow
He said three adults were in the home when the incident occurred – the suspect, the child’s grandmother and a male friend of the grandmother.
Castellow would not speculate on whether mental health issues played a role in the girl’s death. “We are still looking into motive,” he said.
Police are waiting on an autopsy later this week to determine the exact cause of death, but “we believe the child was suffocated,” Castellow said. What was allegedly used to suffocate the child is not being made public, he said.
Coronado said she has lost a grandchild, is comforting a grieving daughter and is trying to help another daughter who is under arrest. She called on the news media to “not be cruel to Santa. We’re in enough pain.”