By M.L. JOHNSON
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Wisconsin woman who had been repeatedly warned not to leave her children alone was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison and 18 years of extended supervision after three of them died in a house fire.
Angelica D. Belen told investigators she locked her 5-year-old daughter, Nayeli Colon, and 4-year-old twin sons, Adrian and Alexis Colon, in a bedroom on April 11 because she needed to go to a new job and didn’t want them wrecking the house or getting outside where neighbors could see they were unattended. The children died of smoke inhalation and burns after a faulty electrical connection ignited in the kitchen of the home in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis. Their bodies were found under a bedroom dresser.
A tearful Belen apologized profusely for leaving the children alone and the hurt that she caused her family. At one point, she spoke directly to her dead children.
“I’m sorry that you’ll never grow up. I am sorry that I will never see you grow up, graduate high school and have children of your own,” said Belen, 25, who pleaded guilty in July to three counts of felony child neglect.
Belen grew up in homes marked by child abuse. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported that Belen was 3 in 1992, when her 17-month-old sister was found beaten and starved in her crib. Belen’s mother was sentenced to eight years in prison for child neglect, and her boyfriend was convicted of beating the child.
The surviving siblings were placed in foster homes, where court records show Belen was abused. She received counseling for attention deficit and bipolar disorders.
Judge Jeffrey Wagner said he sympathized with Belen, who struggled to raise four children, three of them with special needs. But he also said she had failed in her duty to take care of them.
“I understand your terrible, terrible upbringing,” he said. “I know you were victimized yourself growing up, and I understand that and I take that into consideration. But there shouldn’t be this cycle.”
Belen received multiple warnings from the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare for repeatedly leaving her children alone and she was eventually charged with child neglect. Caseworkers said Belen didn’t know better, given her upbringing.
Nonetheless, the children were never removed from her care. A Wisconsin Department of Children and Families investigation later determined the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare hadn’t handled her case properly and overhauled the bureau’s in-home services program. Changes to the child welfare system in the wake of the case include more staff training, increased home visits and longer program stints for families.