- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A review released Friday by child welfare officials shows there were no indications of previous abuse involving a New Mexico girl who was strangled on her 10th birthday and whose dismembered remains were found inside the home she shared with her mother and two other people.

The results of the investigation released by Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson showed social workers interviewed the girl, Victoria Martens, and her sibling more than once and the children never disclosed any physical or sexual abuse.

It also says the case was handled according to state law and agency policies.

Jacobson called the case heartbreaking and said it speaks to the frustrations that social workers cannot predict or control human behavior.

“We can’t end evil, especially in a case like this where the mother was able to hide what was happening from those closest to her,” Jacobson said in an interview.

The killing sent shockwaves across the state in August as the child’s mother, Michelle Martens, the mother’s boyfriend and his cousin were charged. They have pleaded not guilty to murder and other counts and are in custody pending an October trial.

Autopsy results made public earlier this month included evidence of prior sexual abuse and indicated that the girl was raped and strangled before her body was dismembered.

The review says the Children, Youth and Families Department received a call in March 2015 about allegations that Victoria and her sibling had poor hygiene; a grandparent improperly disciplined the sibling; and Michelle Martens and the grandparent had drank alcohol in front of the children.

The allegations were not substantiated. Both children were interviewed at school and neither had any marks, bruises or evidence of physical abuse, officials said.

In May and June, Michelle Martens called the agency twice with allegations regarding the sibling’s care by the child’s biological father. The parents were involved in a custody dispute at the time.

After another series of interviews with the children, those allegations also remained unproven.

All of the instances of contact with the family were relayed to police as part of regular procedures.

Jacobson said the review also looked more broadly at the agency’s system and whether there were areas for improvement.

Nothing was found suggesting any of the interviews with the children were rushed or incomplete due to staffing levels. Still, officials said increasing staffing could help with the timely documentation of cases.

The agency has boosted staffing by 25 percent over the past two years, but Jacobson said there’s more work to be done when it comes to getting more workers into the field.

Another major focus of the department moving forward will be raising awareness about abuse and prevention. Starting next month, posters and pamphlets will be showing up in public schools as part of an education effort and a related curriculum will follow.

Jacobson acknowledged the sensitivity of talking with children about abuse.

“Something that’s really heartbreaking is that children may not know they are being abused,” she said. “If the people they trust tell them that what is happening is normal, they may not know.”

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