AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin couple is accused of child abuse after police said a two-year-old girl in their care died of blunt force trauma to her head in February.

Left: Bernadette Brook Hernandez, 37. Right: Ramiro Jason Recio, 33 (Austin Police Department Photo)
Left: Bernadette Brook Hernandez, 37. Right: Ramiro Jason Recio, 33 (Austin Police Department Photo)

The Austin Police Department said Bernadette Hernandez, 37, and Ramiro Recio, 33, “intentionally or knowingly caused serious bodily injury to a child” during a Feb. 15 incident with a two-year-old girl named Isabella Rios.

According to police, both are guardians of Isabella and her three-year-old brother and had been since June or July of 2020. Texas Child Protective Services was aware of this arrangement, and KXAN has reached out to it for comment.

Online jail records from Travis County show both suspects have a $150,000 bond. They were both arrested on Tonka Lane by the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force on June 17. Neither have attorneys listed online.

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According to arrest affidavits for both Hernandez and Recio, the girl died of what the medical examiner characterized as “blunt head trauma.” The medical examiner’s manner of death first issued Feb. 19 was “suspicious for homicide.” In May, the examiner updated the manner to just “homicide.”

Previously, APD said it was investigating Isabella’s death as a homicide but did not name any suspects related to the case. KXAN has reached out to APD for clarity on this case and will update this story when it responds.

Hernandez and Recio gave emergency responders and law enforcement officers different stories about what happened to Isabella throughout the investigation, court documents said. After the couple called 911 to report Isabella having trouble breathing and possibly having seizures, Austin Fire Department personnel said they saw the girl was “pale green,” and that she looked “thin and malnourished.”

Differing stories

According to the affidavits, Hernandez claimed to 911 operators she thought Isabella fell at one point, but to AFD, Hernandez said Isabella had not experienced any falls. She later told AFD she put Isabella down to rest after playing in the snow, then heard a scream before finding the girl unresponsive in her crib.

To Austin-Travis County EMS that day, Hernandez reported Isabella had been sick for three months, according to court documents, and claimed they had been at the park all day.

ATCEMS took Isabella to a local hospital, where Hernandez told medical staff Isabella may have fallen.

By the next day, Feb. 16, Isabella was placed in the pediatric intensive care unit at another hospital for her injuries to her head. She died the afternoon of Feb. 18, the affidavits said.

On Feb. 17, Investigators asked both Hernandez and Recio to reenact what happened that day separately. The incident took place during the February winter storms, so there were layers of snow and ice on the ground.

Both of them described all of them playing in the snow that morning, then driving out together to look for food options. Upon arriving back at the home, Hernandez described Isabella falling on her rear several times trying to get back into house in the snow. However, Recio described Isabella stumbling onto her knees while trying to walk back to the house, the affidavits said.

Once inside, Hernandez described taking the brother to the bathroom, as Isabella stood in the hallway. Hernandez described Isabella yelling out an “ugly sound” and collapsing.

Recio said he was in another area of the home when he heard the girl start crying. That’s when Hernandez carried Isabella out of the hallway, and he reported seeing her body “twisting up,” the affidavits said.

Ring camera footage shows what happened before coming inside

Detectives obtained a search warrant for the videos from a home security system set up at the home. One of the camera angles from above the garage showed the driveway and front yard, which would give light to what happened when the group came home that day.

Most of what Hernandez and Recio reported was accurate according to the footage, detectives explained in the affidavits, but said of note “was the way [Hernandez] and [Recio] seemed to be treating [Isabella].”

Video footage revealed as they were all trekking up to the home in the inches of snow and ice on the ground, Hernandez and Recio refused to help the girl as she fell and tripped several times.

“At no time do [Recio] or [Hernandez] help her in the deep snow, up the steep slope of the yard. Also, at no point in time, does Isabella hit her head,” the affidavits read.

Pediatricians say falls would not have caused head injury

Hernandez and Recio’s stories were relayed back to pediatricians and doctors who took care of Isabella. They told police “the story of an accidental fall was not consistent whatsoever with the nature of Isabella’s injury,” according to court documents.

Detectives pointed out in the affidavits “there was still no claim Isabella’s head had ever made contact with the ground or any foreign object.”

Injuries to the second child

On Feb. 22, investigators were notified the second child in Hernandez and Recio’s care, Isabella’s 3-year-old brother, was also found to have “a skull fracture” and unexplained bruises. These injuries were examined by doctors in San Antonio, after Recio handed the brother over to an uncle’s care on Feb. 16. CPS would take custody of the brother after then, the affidavits said.

The brother’s injuries to his head were in the same area as Isabella’s skull fractures, according to the affidavit. Doctors also determined the brother had been hurt by a “blunt impact to the head,” same as the sister, according to court documents.

CPS involvement

Hernandez had custody of the girl and her brother since 2020, after the biological parents had run-ins with CPS in their hometown of Corpus Christi, according to court documents.

Until the investigation into Isabella’s injuries and death, CPS was unaware that Recio, Hernandez’s elderly uncle and grandfather all lived in the home with Hernandez and the two children as well, according to the affidavits.

“[Hernandez] had not reported the others in her home, and it would appear that she had them all leave during CPS home visits,” court documents read.

KXAN has reached out to multiple agencies to learn how Hernandez got custody of the two children.

“Anytime a child dies from abuse, we work hard to learn what may have happened in order to help us understand what might be done to prevent future deaths. This case is an absolute tragedy, and it highlights that friends, family, neighbors and members of the community must speak up anytime there are suspicions of child abuse or neglect (and it’s state law). That is especially important in the case of small children who may be unable to describe what has happened to them.”

-CPS spokesperson

“The trends that we’re starting to see, during the pandemic, really were not as many cases, but more intense cases. We’ve been seeing cases with more injuries,” explained Honorable Aurora Martinez Jones, who presides over the 126th District Court.

Martinez Jones said the state needs to provide more resources and training that will safely keep children in their homes.

“We also need to make sure that whatever resources we’re putting in place to make sure that the kids’ needs are met, that there is an opportunity that those services can actually be provided to their biological parents,” Martinez Jones said.