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Police: New Mexico boy’s school absence went unnoticed for months after death

February 28, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Police: New Mexico boy’s school absence went unnoticed for months after death

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A boy from New Mexico, who investigators said suffered from years of abuse and had not shown up to school in months, was discovered buried along a rural highway.

Jeremiah Valencia’s mother, Tracy Pena, pulled him out of middle school in Las Vegas, New Mexico, last year and told officials at the school that she was going to enroll him at a school in Santa Fe. However, the woman never put her son into a new school, and state officials failed to notice.

The boy had not attended school for at least seven months before he was discovered dead.

Investigators did not recover the 13-year-old’s remains until two months after his estimated death in November because no one reported him missing, the Sante Fe New Mexican reported.

Last week, Pena’s boyfriend, 42-year-old Thomas Ferguson, was indicted on first-degree murder charges, along with 17 other felony counts tied to Valencia’s death.

Jeremiah Valencia (above) missed at least seven months of school before he died.

Law enforcement officials allege that he brutally beat the teen to death while Pena was behind bars on a warrant for neglecting to show up to a court appearance.

Pena and Ferguson’s son, Jordan Nunez, 19, also faces charges in the case.

Detectives found out about Valencia’s slaying in January when Pena told another inmate in the county jail about her son’s death and identified Ferguson as the person who murdered the teen.

The inmate then contacted sheriff’s investigators.

Under state legislation, parents are obligated to enroll children between 5 and 18 in school. However, there is no particular state official responsible for guaranteeing that happens when students are transferred between districts or taken out of a public school to be enrolled in a private or charter school.

The New Mexico Public Education Department examines dropout rates and other numbers but does not follow up when students disappear from the education system, according to spokesperson Lida Alikhani.

Tracy Pena and Thomas Ferguson Santa Fe County Adult Detention Facility

“The state is not required to intervene with any individual student,” she stated. “That responsibility lies with the school or district.”

In Valencia’s situation, West Las Vegas Middle School administrators believed the teen had been enrolled into Capshaw Middle School because a code revealed that he was a student there, according to Christopher Gutierrez, the Las Vegas district superintendent.

Records indicated that a preliminary registration form was filled out for Valencia, but he never was a student, Jeff Gephart, a spokesman for Santa Fe Public Schools, revealed.

Gutierrez told The New Mexican that employees did their due diligence when they attempted to follow up on Valencia, but said he has implemented changes after his death.

“We need to communicate a little more,” Gutierrez stated. “Different people have roles to play when it comes to transferring or accepting transfer slips. We need to make sure everybody is crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s.”

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