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Mother awarded visitation rights to daughter who suffered torture, starvation at hands of adoptive parents

Dec. 11, 2009 at 6:11 a.m.

Teresa Camarillo weeps at the gravesite of her daughter Crystal Ramirez in Belmont. For years, Camarillo has tried to pull her life back together after losing custody of three of her children. Crystal's death and the subsequent trial of the foster parents has led to another change. Camarillo has been granted visitation rights to Crystal's brother and sister.

GONZALES - The 2007 starvation death of 8-year-old Crystal Ramirez might breathe life into the relationship between her sister and mother.

A judge granted Crystal's birth mother, Teresa Camarillo, in-home visitation rights with Crystal's older sister, who also suffered starvation and torture in the hands of other guardians.

When Crystal died, her sister was 10 and her brother was 7.

Six years earlier, Camarillo's drug use forced Child Protective Services to remove the two girls and their younger brother from their biological mother's home. The children's aunt and uncle, Steve and Bettie Ramirez, then adopted the children. The Ramirezes, however, were found guilty of murdering Crystal and were sentenced in February to life in prison.

Since, the children lived with an adoptive couple who live near San Antonio.

On Nov. 16, Judge Karin Bonicoro approved an agreement that allows Camarillo to host Crystal's older sister on a limited basis.

"It's a very big step," Camarillo, seated on the steps of the Gonzales County Courthouse, said. "I never thought I was going to get this far. I thought that nobody was going to hear me and realize I wasn't that same person anymore. It's another step."

The judge ordered background checks on anyone inside Camarillo's home during the visits.

"I don't want you to get any false hopes," the judge told Camarillo, noting the visits are once a month for a few hours and not overnight stays.

The children's San Antonio-area adoptive couple approved the biological mother's visitation, as did Child Protective Services.

Mary Walker, a protective services spokeswoman, said it's unusual for adoptive parents to allow birth parents visits with children.

"Once parental rights are terminated, Child Protective Services does not usually revisit the situation," Walker said. "Terminations are final orders from the court and CPS considers it a permanent order mandating that the biological parent or parents are no longer the child's legal parents - thus freeing them for adoption."

Camarillo knows she owes the adoptive parents a debt of gratitude.

"That they are allowing me to bring her home for a little while. I really do appreciate it. They didn't have to do it," said Camarillo.

After court, Camarillo and her daughter joined other family members in a meeting room outside the courtroom. The 12-year-old girl beamed as her biological family crowded around her.

Camarillo, camera in hand, also smiled broadly.

"She's excited that she's going to come home for a little while. I think it's a little overwhelming for her right now," said Camarillo. "She didn't expect everybody to be here. But we wanted to show her what our family really is about and how we are - to give her a chance to know us like she should have from the beginning."

The girl accepted a new bracelet and returned her mother's hug. And many more.

"That's as happy as I've seen her in two years," said the girl's attorney, Forrest Penney, who watched from the courthouse hallway.

Camarillo reflected on the past that led her to lose custody of her children.

"I'm not a bad mom. I just made some bad choices in my life," she said. "Choices that you make hurt everyone around you. You're hurting the people that love you."

Now, however, she has a second chance with Crystal's sister.



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