A memorial with small gifts surrounds a utility pole along with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A memorial with small gifts surrounds a utility pole along with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

EVERETT — Ariel Garcia’s grandmother feared what was coming.

The grandmother applied for emergency guardianship on March 24, an order approved two days later. Within hours of losing custody, Janet Garcia killed her 4-year-old son and fled to southwest Washington, according to Everett police.

The grandmother argued Janet Garcia’s drug use made her “very violent and unpredictable” — and if she were notified of the guardianship case, “she may harm me or try to run away with Ariel and harm him in the process.”

The case has raised a number of pressing questions.

Why didn’t police issue an Amber Alert?

Why did it take a full day to issue an Endangered Missing Persons Advisory alert that made phones buzz around the region?

Could anything else have been done to keep Ariel Garcia safe?

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address those questions directly, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The day after the grandmother filed her petition in court, Snohomish County Superior Court Commissioner Nicole Wagner approved a temporary emergency guardianship and restraining order. It needed to be served within 48 hours.

Wagner, via the court’s administrator Andrew Somers, declined to comment on the case because it remains active. The court also declined any further interviews about emergency orders in general.

Ariel’s grandmother went with her son and daughter-in-law, who planned to serve Janet Garcia, 27, with the paperwork on March 27. But the Vesper Drive home was empty. They reportedly saw a large amount of blood on the floor. So they called police.

“We were trying to serve her the papers, but we found nothing — just a bloodstain,” Janet Garcia’s sister-in-law, out of breath, told a 911 dispatcher.

Ariel’s family declined to be interviewed for this article.

‘Things had already happened’

Just over a week later across Puget Sound, sheriff’s deputies in Kitsap County responded to a case similar to Ariel Garcia’s — with some notable differences.

The Amber Alert sent out for an abducted boy in Bremerton, Washington on Sunday, April 6. An off-duty policeman recognized and arrested the mother with no injuries.

The Amber Alert sent out for an abducted boy in Bremerton, Washington on Sunday, April 6. An off-duty policeman recognized and arrested the mother with no injuries.

Around midnight early April 7, a mother allegedly kidnapped her son, 4. Authorities sent out an Amber Alert by 10:13 a.m. The alert included the name and identifying features of the child and his mother, as well as their photos. The alert identified a vehicle of interest, including make, model and license plate.

Kitsap County’s Sheriff Office spokesperson Kevin McCarty said the child was found “because of the Amber Alert.” An off-duty deputy recognized and arrested the mother. No one was injured.

(Provided by Washington State Patrol)

(Provided by Washington State Patrol)

The boy was reunited with family, McCarty said.

Ariel’s disappearance did not trigger an Amber Alert.

Instead, Washington State Patrol shared a notification for an Endangered Missing Persons Advisory on social media. Later, a notification was sent to phones in all counties along the I-5 corridor, from Everett to Vancouver, just a few minutes before Ariel’s body was found, said Washington State Patrol Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit Manager Carri Gordon.

The Endangered Missing Persons Advisory Alert sent out for Ariel Garcia on Thursday evening, March 28. A few minutes after the alert was sent out, Garcia’s body was found.

The Endangered Missing Persons Advisory Alert sent out for Ariel Garcia on Thursday evening, March 28. A few minutes after the alert was sent out, Garcia’s body was found.

Gordon said the phone alerts are regulated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission.

“FEMA rules say that you can only activate the cell phone alert if there is an immediate need to notify the public of a life or death situation,” she said.

On Thursday evening, the Everett Police Department contacted Gordon to activate the phone notification.

“Unfortunately, things had already happened, that we really had no control over,” Gordon said.

(Provided by Washington State Patrol)

(Provided by Washington State Patrol)

Everett spokesperson Simone Tarver said: “There’s no further story to the notification timing — simply unfortunate timing. We don’t have any further information to share about the EMPA.”

The Washington State Patrol follows federal criteria for Amber Alerts.

Gordon said the evaluation is a “collaborative decision between the Amber Alert coordinator” and “the requesting agency” — in this case, the Everett Police Department.

Amber Alert criteria are:

• The child is under 18 and known to have been abducted, and is not a runaway or abandoned child.

• The child is believed to be in danger of imminent death or serious bodily injury.

• There must be enough descriptive information available to believe that an Amber Alert will assist in the recovery of the child.

Meanwhile, the Endangered Missing Persons Advisory criteria are:

• Person of any age who is missing and in danger because of age, physical or mental health, severe weather conditions and not able to return to safety without assistance.

• Enough information is available to assist in the recovery of the missing person.

In the case of the Kitsap County boy, the mother had lost custody to the child’s grandparents, McCarty said. The boy was staying in their home.

When the grandparents woke Sunday morning and found he was gone, they began a search.

They saw the mother on home security cameras entering the home after midnight and taking the boy. She had told others she planned to harm the boy and herself.

“The threat, events and available evidence supported the criteria to activate an Amber Alert,” McCarty said.

But in Ariel’s case, Everett police said an abduction was not confirmed. So the criteria to issue an Amber Alert was not met. The emergency guardianship order hadn’t been served to the mother. So technically, his mother still had custody.

Everett police and the state patrol determined the case was more in line with an Endangered Missing Persons Advisory. The next morning, the Washington State Patrol issued the alert on social media. An updated advisory, with vehicle information, came through as an alarm on devices across the region by evening.

‘Its best and most effective protective abilities’

Since 2011, the state Department of Children, Youth & Families is required to conduct a “child fatality review” when a child’s death or near-death is suspected to be caused by abuse or neglect.

The goal is to “identify areas for increased education and training, as well as potential policy or legislative changes,” according to the department’s website.

The reviews have to be completed within six months, an agency spokesperson said.

The death reviews are uploaded online at dcyf.wa.gov/practice/oiaa/reports/child-fatality/child-welfare. Near-death reports are not public record.

In 2023, the department reviewed 15 deaths and 30 near deaths.

As soon as people are worried about a child’s safety, they should seek legal counsel, the family law attorney said. If the child is in danger because of a parent, sometimes it’s so urgent that it’s better to remove them from the parent and go straight to court to file for custody, family law attorney Jeremiah Styles said.

Unlike a parent, though, grandparents and other relatives don’t have the parental rights.

Styles said close relatives, however, will have an “inherent advantage” in seeking guardianship, as they can more easily prove it would be in the child’s best interest. Ariel’s grandmother, who represented herself in the guardianship case, tried to argue just that.

“Ariel being so young needs someone to look after him, and his mom is not able to give him the care he needs,” she wrote in her guardianship petition the week of Ariel’s slaying. “He becomes scared of her condition and does not want to be around her anymore. I can give him a normal life.”

Ariel Garcia, 4, was last seen Wednesday morning in an apartment in the 4800 block of Vesper Dr. (Photo provided by Everett Police)

Ariel Garcia, 4, was last seen Wednesday morning in an apartment in the 4800 block of Vesper Dr. (Photo provided by Everett Police)

Parties in a case cannot serve orders themselves, per state law. However, the police, a process server or even a friend of the plaintiff can.

In this case, Ariel’s grandmother was present with family members when the order was supposed to be served to her daughter, within a 48-hour deadline imposed by the court.

The police report didn’t clarify who was actually going to serve the paperwork.

Styles advises clients to not be present when orders are served.

In 2022, state lawmakers passed the “Keeping Families Together Act,” to reduce the number of children in foster care, racial disproportionality in the child welfare system and support relatives to take care of children.

The law raised the legal standard to allow children to be taken from their parents to “imminent risk of physical harm.” Before, authorities had more discretion to remove children. The act spelled out that poverty, isolation, the parent’s age, housing, substance abuse, mental illness, a parent’s or child’s disability or “nonconforming social behavior” did not — on their own — constitute imminent physical harm.

Styles, however, doesn’t believe the legislation put Ariel in greater danger.

The law “mainly makes it easier for relatives to take custody of children who are already removed from their parents,” he said. “I don’t think it addresses situations where family members are seeking emergency protective orders.”

Custody disputes are always going to be complicated, Styles noted.

“Before you go to the Legislature and try to create some kind of massive, overpowered police force that has to monitor the actions of all parents,” he said, “go talk to an attorney who is familiar with the civil justice system, has seen dangerous situations before and can give you expert counsel on how to use the system to its best and most effective protective abilities.”

A hearing on the guardianship of Ariel’s older brother, 7, is set for April 26.

Janet Garcia remained in the Snohomish County Jail this week, held for investigation of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and assault of a child in her son’s death. Bail was set at $5 million.

Janet Ernestina Garcia appears in court via video alongside defense attorney Max Messinger for her bail hearing on Monday, April 1, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Janet Ernestina Garcia appears in court via video alongside defense attorney Max Messinger for her bail hearing on Monday, April 1, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The aunt of Ariel Garcia is raising money to cover funeral expenses: gofundme.com/f/spkuh-funeral. Funds not spent on the funeral will go to the welfare and care of Ariel’s brother. As of Thursday, the fundraiser had brought in over $17,000.

Aina de Lapparent Alvarez: 425-339-3449; aina.alvarez@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @Ainadla.

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