After her sister and mother were shot dead last week, Adriana Toledo was desperate to take care of her twin nephews.
Her sister Esmeralda Casillas and mother Ofelia Casillas were killed in a custody swap in Moreno Valley on Friday, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.
The boys’ father, Salvador Velasquez, was arrested in connection with the murders.
But the 7-year-olds were not handed over to Casillas’ family – despite having custody of them five days a week, her family said. Instead, the twins were placed in the care of Velasquez’s parents.
Toledo said her family has not seen the children since their mother and grandmother were killed on Friday, and Velasquez’s family has not contacted them.
“It’s very important to get the kids back,” Toledo said in an interview with the Times, noting that her family is worried about the boys’ safety.
Following what authorities described as a domestic violence case, the family is baffled by the county’s decision to place the children with Velasquez’s parents and has hired an attorney to seek custody of the twins, Toledo said.
“We don’t think it’s a good environment for them,” said Adriano Olascoaga, Casillas’ nephew.
“We don’t know if he’ll get out on bail or what the parents might do,” Olascoaga said of Velasquez and his family.
The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services did not respond to requests for comment about the boys’ current circumstances.
Authorities said Casillas, 36, and her mother, 68, who both live in El Cajon, drove to the Moreno Valley on Friday night to drop the boys off at their father’s home, who lived in Coachella. It wasn’t immediately clear why the custody swap happened at this location.
During the exchange, authorities say, Velasquez shot and killed Casillas and her mother.
Riverside County deputies responding to reports of a shooting just before 8 p.m. found the two women in their car with gunshot wounds. They were taken to a hospital, where both died.
Investigators quickly identified Velasquez as a suspect, the Sheriff’s Department said in a press release, and arrested him the following day in connection with the murders. The children were found safely at his Coachella home, officials said.
Velasquez, who is being held without bail at the John Benoit Detention Center in Indio, had not been charged as of Tuesday night, and Riverside County prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment on when charges could be filed.
The killings were preceded by a long and tumultuous relationship and custody battle between Casillas and Velasquez, family members of the victims said.
Messages exchanged via the Talking Parents app and a handwritten letter Casillas wrote to a judge, shared with The Times, show the couple’s bickering and suggest Casillas had concerns about Velasquez’s mother.
Olascoaga shared a message in which Velasquez called Casillas a “little… brat.”
Other conversations revealed that Casillas complained that after spending weekends with their father, her sons returned to her with bruises and severe diaper rash.
“I live day by day to do my best and take care of their health and well-being, but I need help while they’re not with me. I do not agree with the way the father brings [me] our kids starving, not showered, dirty,” Casillas wrote to a Riverside County Superior Court judge during the 2018 custody trial in a letter shared by Olascoaga with The Times.
“I am molested by my children’s father and his mother. … This has to stop immediately.”
Casillas claimed in the letter to the judge that Velasquez and his mother, Irma Velasquez, said the children were “at risk” and tried to arrest them that year, Olascoaga said.
Irma Velasquez could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.
Olascoaga said the boys had “bruising, black eyes. [Velasquez] dislocated one of her legs.”
“I think someday [one of the boys] had a sprained wrist from being dragged around,” he told the Times.
“He was super, super possessive,” Olascoaga said of Velasquez. “The relationship wasn’t good. He was a very jealous, controlling person. He would look at us, her nephews, as if we were trying to take her away from him.”
Olascoaga said Casillas was a hard working mom who ran a tire shop and was trying to move on with her life after her relationship with Velasquez ended.
“I’m a woman running a men’s store,” Casillas told Shoutout SoCal in an interview about her store in June. “I define success as having the courage to fight to achieve dreams and goals. It is achieving prosperity, wealth, leadership and self-confidence to open more doors to growth and access another level of financial freedom.”
Meanwhile, Velasquez continued to tease Casillas, Toledo said.
He asked Casillas to take him back during a custody hearing in September, Toledo said. “She said, ‘Never.’ He had done so many bad things to her,” she said, adding that he told Casillas, “I’m going to kill you.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-22/man-arrested-mother-grandmother-killed-after-custody-exchange-moreno-valley Coachella man arrested after mom, grandma of his kids killed