Isn’t this a lovely little family? A pretty young mother cradling her small children in her loving arms, smiles on all three of their faces; what could be more wholesome?
I’ll tell you what’s not wholesome: the fact that both of these babies are dead thanks to their irresponsible POS mother, Brittany Ann Velasquez of Superior, Arizona, who was 20 years old when her selfish, thoughtless, neglectful behavior ended the lives of her children: Lorenzo Michael Velasquez, age 2, and Brooklyn Rose Velasquez, age 9 months.
Another day, another hot car death, right? Let’s get right into this clusterfuck of a case.
On March 26, 2018, Brittany, a very young widow, was scheduled to work a twelve hour shift at her new job at a local restaurant. She later told Pinal County Sheriff’s investigators that she dropped her two children off with a babysitter at 9:30 AM. According to Brittany, when she returned at 11:00 PM to pick up the kids, she found them dead in her grandparents’ car. She told deputies the babysitter must have brought the kids to the house where they lived with Brittany and her grandparents and buckled them into their car seats inside their great-grandparents’ vehicle..
Um, pardon me, but what kind of Casey Anthony bullshit was this girl slinging?!
Once they interviewed the supposed babysitter, Sheriff’s deputies didn’t believe Brittany’s story for obvious reasons. The babysitter, whose name was redacted from the report, told officers that no arrangements had been made for Brittany to leave the kids with her. “There was no proof that Brittany actually dropped the children off,” said the Sheriff’s report. “It was apparent that Brittany was attempting to place the blame onto somebody else for this incident.” Brittany’s grandmother told police that after she told Brittany she couldn’t watch the kids that morning, she personally saw Brittany buckle them into her own car.
The Sheriff’s report went on to say, “It is known that the kids spent several hours in the vehicle as there was condensation on the inside windows of the vehicle and the children were cold to the touch and rigor mortis had already set in.” In other words, Brittany’s story was full of more shit than a sewage treatment plant.
In a Facebook post made by Brittany’s older brother, Vincent Velasquez, on March 29, 2018, he attempts to clear up the details of what happened that terrible day. “My grandma said she couldn’t watch the kids that day and to take them to the babysitter. Brittany told us about the babysitter she had and we trusted that girl so we thought it was ok to let them go there. So my grandma wakes up and Brittany says she has the kids in her car and is going to drop them off at the baby sitter before her 12 hour shift. She [instead] put the kids in my grandparents car then went to work for 12 hours and came back and immediately checked the car and found them dead. She took them out of their car seats and my frantic grandpa tried saving them but they were [too] far gone.”
According to the report, when Brittany initially called Superior Police to report the incident, she told them her children were found strapped into their car seats with “blood coming from their mouths.”
By the time the police arrived at the grandparents’ residence near Richard Avenue and Palo Verde Drive, Lorenzo and Brooklyn had clearly been dead for hours. The Superior Police called in the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, who arrested Brittany on two counts of first degree murder.
Was this a tragic mistake? Another case of the basal ganglia, otherwise known as “lizard brain,” taking over and a hapless parent forgetting her kids in the car, which is a real and unimaginably horrifying phenomenon that happens, according to advocacy group KidsAndCars.org, to an average of 37 children every year in the United States?
Not if Brittany’s history of visits from the police and investigations by the Arizona Department of Child Safety are any indication. Brittany was investigated twice by DCS for alleged neglect, and Superior Police made multiple visits to her home over the previous few years. Many of these visits were spurred by calls to authorities by relatives concerned about Brittany’s lackadaisical attitude toward parenting.
The first report to DCS of alleged neglect came in October 2016, when the department was told Brittany had a habit of leaving Lorenzo home with her mother for extended periods of time. Regarding this report, according to a statement DCS gave to PEOPLE, “The child was seen on multiple occasions during the investigation. The DCS investigator concluded there were no indications the child was being abused or neglected and there were no legal grounds to remove the child.” The case was closed as unsubstantiated.
On January 1, 2017, a relative called police, alleging that Brittany had stolen a fur coat worth $3,500 from her. During this call, the relative also let it slip that Brittany hadn’t kicked the habit of disappearing for days at a time, leaving her children to be cared for by family members.
A few days later, on January 5, DCS received the second neglect report, which alleged Brittany had abandoned her kids with her mom again. During the investigation, DCS discovered that Brittany’s mother would watch the kids while Brittany worked. This case was also closed as unsubstantiated after determining there was no evidence of abuse or neglect, but only after DCS visited Brittany’s apartment and signed the kids up for no-cost daycare.
This bitch had access to free child care, and she still figured the better option was leaving the kids alone in a car all day?! It boggles the mind.
In DCS’s statement to PEOPLE, they made reference to Brittany’s mental state, saying, “While there were concerns raised regarding Ms. Velasquez’s previous mental health, no evidence was presented by anyone that indicated mental health issues were impeding Ms. Velasquez’s ability to parent.” However, after Lorenzo and Brooklyn died, Brittany’s relatives took to the media.
Vincent told FOX10 that Brittany, whom he called “deranged,” suffered from mental illness since she was young but that she refused to get help. “We tried,” he told the news station. “We begged CPS to take the kids. We begged the cops. Nothing would happen. Only thing we can do. We can’t kidnap the kids. My grandparents let them stay in the house. Other than that, that’s all we can do, know they are in a home, being fed.”
“We all expected this,” Vincent told Pinal Central. Describing Brittany as lacking basic empathy for other people, he continued, “We all knew she had major issues.” He said Brittany was able to manipulate the police and CPS, which is why their investigations went nowhere.
Three days after the deaths of his nephew and niece, Vincent published the extensive Facebook post I referenced earlier on the subject of his sister. “She was born extremely premature and our mother was guaranteed on drugs the whole pregnancy. Her brain wasn’t properly developed,” he explained. He went into detail about how his family had tried approximately 17 times to have teenaged Brittany committed to various mental health facilities, but she would always manage to escape and hitchhike home. She refused to believe she was mentally ill, and because of the frequency and inevitability of her escapes, they gave up on trying to get her treatment, hoping that once she reached adulthood, she would “become mature enough to accept help.”
In the post, Vincent expounded on Brittany’s stunted emotional growth and lack of good judgment: “When you would talk to her, socially she sounded very intelligent. But once you start to be around her you see the other things that make you normal were not there at all. I have NEVER seen her legitimately cry out of sadness (she was very good at fake crying). She had literally no emotions. I have never seen any sign of love or compassion come from her. She didn’t have the ability to put action and consequences together. She would do things that had a very obvious outcome but she couldn’t see what the outcome would be. It was very frustrating seeing her do things and we would try to explain to her the consequences but she refused to acknowledge it and believe whatever she thought was the truth.”
After explaining the ways the family tried repeatedly to get the authorities involved by reporting Brittany’s neglect of her kids, Vincent talked about what he thought happened that fateful day, both inside his sister’s mind and inside the car where her kids perished. “My grandparents are old and go days without even getting in their car or even really going outside. My grandma is wheelchair bound and my grandpa has severe pneumonia. They couldn’t hear the babies crying because the windows were rolled up in a very new vehicle that is sealed very tight. Standing next to it you would barely be able to hear them cry. There are no next door neighbors just houses across the street which wouldn’t be able to hear them crying.”
Cathy Wernett, the mother of Brittany’s husband Christopher Miranda, also told Pinal Central that Brittany should not have been caring for her own children, suggesting the “system failed” Lorenzo and Brooklyn. She described her son’s marriage to Brittany as a “volatile situation” and said she had wanted it annulled. “Her grasp on reality isn’t there,” Cathy said of Brittany, who she also described as a “compulsive liar.”
Heavy.com spoke with Emily Stanford, who claims she attended rehab with Brittany from 2013 to 2014, when Brittany was in her mid-teens. “I’m devastated for those poor children but I’m not surprised. She was always a nutcase in my opinion.” She believes the reason for Brittany’s rehab stay was heroin use.
CPS’s statement to PEOPLE seemed to address the concerns of the family and the public alike: “We understand these types of tragic events evoke emotional reactions; we too feel pain when children suffer. However, we can only make decisions based on the available evidence and what the law allows… The Department acted in good faith based on the information we received and exercised our due diligence during these prior investigations.”
In March of 2017, Brittany filed a petition to have Lorenzo’s last name changed due to “domestic charges that his dad has against me. I don’t want my son’s name to be a name that follows violence. It is in the best interest of my son.” I was unable to dig up any details about those alleged charges between Brittany and Lorenzo’s father, a man in his mid-to-late forties (!!) named Charles Caillouette, who is mentioned by name in the childrens’ obituary.
The death of Brittany’s husband, Christopher Mathew Miranda, on June 16, 2017 of a drug overdose couldn’t have done her mental state any favors. The two married in August 2015, when Christopher was 25 and Brittany was a mere 17. She was, at the time of their marriage, already pregnant with Lorenzo. The little guy was born on December 4, 2015, at Banner Baywood Hospital in Mesa, Arizona; Brooklyn was born on June 4, 2017 in the same hospital. Even though Christopher was not Lorenzo’s biological father, the little boy’s obituary, which also covers Brooklyn’s death, refers to Christopher as “their father.” Brittany’s Facebook page makes mention of what a good father he was.
For her part, Cathy Wernett said that when her son died, Brittany showed no remorse. Brittany did, however, set up a GoFundMe page, lamenting that Christopher’s death was “devastating to us all.” I’ll let you decide if it was a blatant money grab or not.
Brittany’s sister, Amber Velasquez, spoke with AZFamily.com, describing her nephew and niece as smiling and always happy. “I don’t think anyone would imagine this happening to their family. They were so innocent.” She had nicknames for the kids. “I would call [Lorenzo] ‘my papas’ and Brooklyn, I would call her ‘my little fairy,’ so I kept thinking not my papas, not my little fairy.” She and Brittany had just taken the little ones to the mall the week before; a photo with the two of them perched on the Easter bunny’s lap was the last one taken of the children together and alive.
Of the charges then pending against Brittany, Amber said, “I lost my niece and nephew, but I’m also losing a sister. We would talk every day, all day. I know what she did was the most horrible thing, but at the same time, that was my sister.”
Even so, Amber believes her sister needs to face consequences. “Anyone who would commit that crime, I would want them to be arrested and face their punishments for what they did.”
Amber created a GoFundMe page to assist the family with funeral and other expenses relating to the childrens’ death, which, tragically, included vehicle repairs due to the fact that the childrens’ bodies sat in their great-grandparents’ car for several hours. For some reason, Amber calls Lorenzo “Baby Christopher” on the page, although Brittany herself refers to her son by his given name on her Facebook page. The GoFundMe campaign, created the day after Lorenzo and Brooklyn died, raised $11,204 and has since been ended by Amber. The heartrending description reads:
The children were buried on April 7, 2018, laid to rest together in the same small, white coffin, at Fairview Cemetery in Superior. When she closed the GoFundMe campaign, Amber commented, “The two babies will be buried side by side in the same casket. They lived their whole lives together, passed away together, and will forever rest in peace together.”
Autopsies on Lorenzo and Brooklyn determined the children died of exposure. The high temperature in the area on March 26, 2018 was 71 degrees, but due to the greenhouse effect responsible for so many hot car deaths, the temperature inside the car may have been astronomically higher. “At 70 degrees on a sunny day,” according to HeatKills.org, “after a half hour, the temperature inside a car is 104 degrees. After an hour, it can reach 113 degrees.”
The report from the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s office, signed by Dr. John Hu, said the childrens’ deaths were “consistent with exposure to the elements.” It also mentioned that Sheriff’s officials had reported Brittany left one or both of her children in a parked car “for a prolonged period of time” at least twice before the fatal incident.
Brittany was initially charged with two counts of first degree murder, but this month, instead of facing trial in December, she accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to second degree murder and child abuse. According to prosecutors, when Brittany is sentenced on February 10, 2020, she will likely receive a 20-year prison sentence, followed by lifetime probation. Pinal Deputy County Attorney Shawn Jensvold told PEOPLE, “She won’t be eligible for early release.”
To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about Brittany’s sentence. On one hand, it doesn’t seem like anywhere near a harsh enough punishment; on the other, Vincent’s comments on his sister’s mental state and her subsequent lack of reasoning skills give me pause. “Now to the motives,” he continued in his lengthy Facebook post. “The babysitter couldn’t watch them that day so she left them in the car. Now the hard part is getting into a mentally [ill] person’s mind to find out why she did it. We think she assumed my grandpa would eventually go outside and find them in the car and be forced to watch them that day and expecting to come home and just get scolded but everything would be fine still. Or she put them in there to die, not probable.
“Now here’s some interesting facts about the whole situation,” he went on. “Brittany has repeatedly said she would drop them off at that approved baby sitter but it is proven the baby sitter has NEVER watched them. The couple times she asked the sitter, she was unable to due to other things going on. Understandable. The weird thing is [Brittany] would always say either my sister is watching the kids or that certain sitter but they both denied watching them on those days. So where were the kids on those days? Let’s look into some possibilities. She has a history of leaving them in the car. One time she went to Walmart with some friends and she tried leaving them in the car but they refused to let her and would proceed to call us and let us know. Why was she so confident with leaving them in the car? When Brittany would do something that works once, she does it until it doesn’t work without any thought of what could happen. There were times she would stay the night at a guy’s house and… give multiple stories on where the kids were. At the time we all believed the stories but after talking to investigators we all figured the kids weren’t ever where she said. So we assume she would leave them in the car over night. All these things we are figuring out is too late. If she simply said the sitter couldn’t watch them Monday, my grandparents would have.”
I could go off about Brittany’s irresponsibility and what a pile of livestock excrement she is, but then I think about her clearly impeded brain development and the mental and behavioral issues she displayed very early in life, not to mention the latest research indicating the human brain doesn’t finish developing until around age 25. According to Big Think Edge, one critical part of the brain that continues developing well after an individual becomes a legal adult is the prefrontal cortex, which governs “how we regulate emotions, control impulsive behavior, assess risk and make long-term plans.” Thinking about this, for me, snowballs into an ethical debate with myself about how culpable a young adult can reasonably be considered in the event of a crime as compared to a fully developed adult.
“Most countries,” Big Think Edge’s website says, “have separate juvenile justice systems to deal with children who commit crimes. These separate systems are predicated on the idea that there ought to be a spectrum of culpability that accounts for a criminal’s age.”
In my heart, I want to see Brittany punished to the full extent of the law (and maybe beyond, along the vein of “prison justice”); my logical mind, however, understands that, ethically, it’s entirely possible that she did not understand the ramifications of her actions, and that had she been 25 or 30 when faced with the decision to leave her kids in the car all day or not, she may have made a much more responsible decision. Then again, considering her behavioral and mental issues, maybe she wouldn’t have. It’s something to think about, anyway. I am definitely not making excuses for her, and just to be clear, regardless of what her issues are, I definitely think she’s a pile of livestock excrement.
Internal ethical dilemma or no, paramount in my mind are the lives of little Lorenzo Michael and Brooklyn Rose Velasquez, who were both taken from this earth far too soon. Brittany did a phone interview with Fox10 not long after her initial arrest, during which she lied a bunch, as she does, but she also showed a hint of emotion while describing memories of her children.
“His favorite words were ‘cheese,’ ‘tata,’ ‘bye,’ ‘nana,’ ‘mama,'” she said of Lorenzo. “He had a smile worth a million words.”
About Brooklyn, she said, “She was very, very happy. There’s not a moment I’d never seen her smile.”
The kids’ obituary says, “These children were both happy, full of life and very loving toward each other and all those whose lives they entered.” How bitterly, tragically sad that because their lives were so short, it’s all but impossible to find more than this to say about these innocent babies.
Fly high, little angels.
Click here for more of my coverage on this case.
Sources: AZ Central, Heavy.com, Pinal Central, AZ Family, Fox10 Phoenix, Facebook, GoFundMe, Griffith Mortuary, Legacy.com, ABC15, Washington Post, KidsAndCars.org, PEOPLE, Big Think Edge, HeatKills.org