DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Juan Vaquero says he heard a familiar voice as he returned home Sunday night.
His landlord’s 6-year-old grandson, he says, was calling out to him.
The boy was often in his grandmother’s backyard, where Vaquero rents a camper from Esmeralda Lira and her boyfriend, Jose Balderas.
That night, it was already dark and Vaquero couldn’t see the boy.
He says he searched with his cell phone flashlight, tracing the voice to a padlocked shed behind the camper.
“I couldn’t understand it,” he said, of what he found.
Vaquero, 54, also recorded evidence – a conversation between him and the boy, still locked in the shed.
He shared the recording with CBS 11.
Here is the translation of that conversation:
Vaquero: “When did she shut you in there?”
Child: “At six (p.m.).”
Vaquero: “Since six in the afternoon you’ve been shut in there? Son, it’s going to be 10. It’s already 10. Listen. Were you misbehaving with her or why did she shut you in there?”
Child: “It’s been since you gave me a pillow and blanket. That was the first day she put me in this room.”
Vaquero: “Do you have blankets? A bed?”
Child: ‘No.. just… I can walk. Other things. I have that box in here. I can walk, but I can’t move my hands and touch.”
Vaquero: “You said she tied up your hands?”
Vaquero: “But why would she tie them up?”
Child: “Because she didn’t want me grabbing things anymore.”
The conversation continued:
Vaquero: “Have you eaten?”
Child: “In the morning, yes, but…”
Vaquero: “In the morning? But it’s already night time, son! How can I help you? I’ll give you a jello or a sandwich when you get out in a bit.”
Child: “I can’t open jello. She tied my hands behind my back like the police do. Yes? But with a rope. And she tightened them.”
Vaquero: “And she tightened them?”
The child went on to say, “She lets me out in the morning. I’ll take a bath. and then we’ll see each other outside.”
Vaquero told the child he was going to leave and call for help.
Vaquero: “I’m leaving now, son.”
Child: “Okay” (he’s heard quietly crying).
Dallas police officers arrived shortly after 11:00 Sunday night to find Lira, Balderas, and two children, ages 4 and 7, in the house.
According to police, Lira claimed the 6-year-old was with his mother.
When they questioned Vaquero, he pointed them to the shed.
Officers said after warning Lira they would break down the door, she provided a key.
A police report notes they found the boy “standing alone in the pitch dark shed… his hands tied behind his back with shoelaces.”
It describes “ligature marks on both his wrists from being tied up” and “rats and insects… in the shed.”
Vaquero describes seeing the interior of the shed so cluttered there was no more than two square feet of space for the boy to stand.
Police arrested Lira and Balderas for endangering a child.
An investigator wrote Balderas confessed the boy had been locked in the shed every night for at least two weeks.
The only explanation the couple offered for locking the boy in the shed was an accusation he stole food.
Vaquero said several times a week the boy would come to him hungry and asking for food.
He would give him a sandwich or snack.
“He said he was my friend,” said Vaquero.
He wiped away tears talking about the boy, who is the same age as his own grandchild.
“It broke my heart,” said Vaquero.
He’d heard the boy’s grandmother yell at him, spotted him outside alone, and witnessed him yanked by his ear.
He worried about him, but until that night, he said he’d never witnessed physical abuse.
“I did what I had to do,” he said.
Because that meant turning in his landlord to police, Vaquero said he won’t be living on the property anymore.
It’s okay, he said.
He knows he can find a new home.
That boy in that moment only had him.
“It had to be me who spoke up,” he said.
He knew no one else would.