Two 15-year-old girls who went missing after their foster mother was killed have been apprehended and charged with murdering her, Lincoln County authorities said Thursday.
A search for the teens began after Evelyn Miranda, 53, who was specially trained to take in troubled youths, was found dead Wednesday morning of apparent asphyxiation. The girls and the woman's van were missing from her home in the small Hondo Valley community of San Patricio.
The teens were caught about 12 hours later at a home in Carlsbad, about 120 miles away, after police got a tip, Lincoln County Undersheriff Robert Shepperd said. Each was charged with one open count of murder, which lets prosecutors determine the degree of the charge at a later date.
Police in Roswell, which is on the way from San Patricio to Carlsbad, found the dead woman's minivan Thursday morning.
Sheriff's officials released few others details about the case. The girls, from Roswell and Mescalero, were in the Chavez County juvenile detention center in Roswell pending a custody hearing, officials said.
Prosecutors will have to decide whether to charge the girls as adults, as New Mexico gives district attorneys the authority to prosecute anyone over 14 in adult court.
According to prosecutors, one of the girls had recently been arrested on battery charges and had been put on a year's probation less than a week ago and ordered to spend time in a "treatment foster home." Miranda was a treatment foster parent, meaning she had undergone extra training to accommodate such children.
Enrique Carlos Knell, of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, said treatment foster homes are separate from state-licensed foster homes for abused and neglected children. The treatment homes are facilities where parents can voluntarily send their troubled children, and they are also used by the juvenile courts as an alternative to sending kids to psychiatric facilities, he said.
Friends and neighbors told the Albuquerque Journal that Miranda was a loving, generous person with two grown children who had been taking in foster children for years. She also served the homebound elderly.
"Everybody's still in shock," Sandra Romero, who described herself as a lifelong friend of Miranda's. "She was just a fun-loving person. She always had a smile, always cared for anybody and everybody."
She provided foster parenting through Mesilla Valley Therapeutic Foster Care, based in Ruidoso. Officials there said they were prohibited from discussing the case due to patient confidentiality laws.