ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Michelle Martens kept her new relationship with a man convicted of child endangerment a secret from friends and family for weeks — as she helped plan her daughter’s 10th birthday party, sent the girl off daily to the school bus and held down her job at a local grocery store.
Now relatives and friends of the 35-year-old single mother are trying to figure out why they never knew about her involvement with the boyfriend and her invitation for his cousin who is a convicted felon to live in her apartment.
Court records show all three face charges in the death of Victoria Martens, who was expected to celebrate her 10th birthday the day her body was found last week after police say she was drugged, raped and killed in the apartment as her mother watched.
“Whatever demons she had we don’t know because she didn’t share them with us,” said Laura Bobbs, who lived in Martens’ apartment complex for five years and now serves as a spokeswoman for Victoria’s relatives. “I should have been the one to see all this and I didn’t.”
An officer responding to a report of a pre-dawn Aug. 24 disturbance at the apartment found Victoria’s remains in a bathtub, partially wrapped in a blanket that had been set on fire.
Bobbs, a local minister who lived until recently in an apartment below Martens, said she and the girl’s grandmother spoke to Martens almost daily. She recalled the mother was planning to order a cake for her daughter days before Victoria died.
The girl’s grandparents, who moved from New York to New Mexico to be closer to their grandchildren, were also in on the party planning, Bobbs said.
All are mystified over how Martens got involved with Fabian Gonzales and his cousin Jessica Kelley, Bobbs said. The three face charges of child abuse resulting in death, kidnapping and tampering with evidence and are jailed for lack of $1 million bail each.
At a news conference Monday held at Victoria’s favorite park, Bobbs thanked Albuquerque residents on behalf of the girl’s family for an outpouring of support and prayers.
The grandparents and other relatives did not speak but clutched each other, and some cried while wearing buttons showing a smiling Victoria adorned in purple, her favorite color.
Police said Martens and Gonzales met on a dating site online about a month before the killing, and that Martens allowed Kelley to move into her apartment after her release from prison about four days before the killing.
Martens told detectives that Gonzales injected her daughter with methamphetamine to calm her down before he raped her and she watched, according to a criminal complaint. Victoria was stabbed by Kelley and choked by Gonzales before her dismemberment, Martens said.
New Mexico officials have said they never received any reports of violent or sexual abuse about the household where Victoria lived with her mother.
But Gonzales was convicted of child endangerment last year after his arrest for beating a woman while she was driving a car with a child inside it.
He was supposed to be monitored by a probation officer and given drug tests but wasn’t because corrections officials say they never received a judge’s order mandating the supervised probation. Martens told detectives she knew Kelley had been released from jail and let her stay in the apartment.
Court records show Kelley had a prior conviction stemming from an incident while she was being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in September 2012. She pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit criminal sexual penetration.
Bobbs said Martens, who also has a 5-year-old son, moved to Albuquerque from the nearby town of Peralta about five years ago.
Neighbors described Victoria as a happy and outgoing child. Bobbs said she always appeared to be well cared for by her mother, and often swam in the apartment complex’s swimming pool.
Bobbs said Victoria’s killing is an example for New Mexico state officials that they must to do more to prevent what has turned into a horrific string of children killed by relatives or people close to them in recent years.
“This family shouldn’t be standing behind me grieving,” Bobbs said during at the news conference with Victoria’s grandparents. “Let’s put our children first. They are our future.”
Martens shared custody of her 5-year-old son with his father. The man’s attorney told local news station KOAT-TV that the boy was staying with his father the night of Victoria’s killing.
Victoria had a different father, court records state. Efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful.