Twenty-five years to the day after an incomprehensible act of violence altered the life of Boyes Hot Springs toddler Carmina Salcido, Sonoma County still searches for signs that hers will be a good and happy life despite its ghastly beginning.
Carmina was days short of age 3 when her jealous, enraged father sliced her throat and those of her two sisters the morning of April 14, 1989. Then Ramon Salcido murdered the girls' mother, almost everyone else in the extended family, and a co-worker. He also tried to kill two other people.
A day and a half later, little Carmina was discovered off to the side of a rural south-county road — alive! — near the bodies of her sisters.
Amid the horror and revulsion and fear of one of Sonoma County's darkest moments, there was cause for joy. Carmina became the county's little girl, an instant and prolonged beneficiary of many strangers' kindness, generosity and hope.
Yet today, as Carmina approaches her 28th birthday, a sustained upturn in her life continues to elude her.
She is minimally employed and relies on others for most basic needs, but her greatest crisis is the prospect that she may permanently lose custody of her own daughter, Zophia Angela Salcido. The child, nicknamed Zoe, is virtually the same age that Carmina was at the time of the 1989 killing spree that left her an orphan with nightmares and a scar clear across her neck.
Zoe, who turned 3 on Sunday, lives with foster parents in Santa Rosa. County child-protection officials took her from Carmina and her former boyfriend, Matthew Inocencio, early last year upon finding evidence that her safety was in jeopardy from factors that included drug use, poor judgment and "chronic domestic violence."
Carmina, who lives in a Cotati apartment paid for by strangers, is allowed to be only a very part-time mom to Zoe. "I see her two times a week, four hours each time," she said.
She contends she has done well at meeting the demands of Child Protective Services aimed at bringing greater stability and responsibility to her life.
"I understand I need to do more work," Carmina said. Still, she said, she believes she has demonstrated she is a good parent and that she is being unfairly denied access to her daughter.
By law, all records and proceedings related to the child's removal from her parents' custody are secret. The CPS social workers, attorneys, counselors and others involved in the case are prohibited from speaking publicly about it.
"I can't comment on any dependency case," said Jacqueline Gillespie, listed in a case document as the attorney appointed to represent Zoe. "These cases are difficult enough without the public eye being drawn into it."
Carmina shared with The Press Democrat a report on her family's Juvenile Dependency Court case that a CPS worker submitted to a Sonoma County judge earlier this year. It notes that CPS child-welfare authorities first became aware of Zoe, "an adorable and brilliant 2-year-old," in January 2013.
At that time, the social worker wrote, "It was substantiated that there was substantial risk that Zoe would suffer as a result of the inability of her parents to adequately protect her."
The county placed the girl temporarily with a foster family and ordered the parents onto a regimen of therapy and counseling. The report gives Carmina and Zoe's father a good deal of credit, saying "both parents have worked very hard to complete their case plan objective and have, in fact, met their client responsibilities."