The U.S. Marshals have joined the hunt for an Ohio couple accused of killing a young boy. The pair were scheduled to appear in court last week but failed to show up.
ABC 5 reports that Joanne Vega, 31, and Romaine Tolbert, 36, were indicted on January 14 for the death of 4-year-old Eliazar Ruiz. They were scheduled for arraignment on January 29, but both suspects were a no-show.
According to Cuyahoga County court records, both suspects have been at large since warrants for their arrests were taken out on January 15.
The U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force is now assisting local investigators with search.
“They probably knew this going to come for quite some time,” Interim Assistant Chief United States Marshal Service, Brian Fitzgibbon, told the outlet. “So they were prepared in the event that the charges were going to come down……And they took off once they found out they were going to be charged.”
The U.S. Marshals said a $2,500 reward in being offered for information that leads to the whereabouts of Tolbert and Vega. Anyone with information should contact authorities 1-866-4-WANTED. Tips can be anonymous.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, the suspects were charged with the little boy’s death more than year after he died.
On September 20, 2017, a tree pruner working at an empty home off of 12900 block of Longmead Avenue in Cleveland discovered small skeletal remains inside a trash bag, placed in the backyard of the residence and hidden under shrubs.
Ashley Makuhan, 27, the boy’s mother, was incarcerated in February 2017 for a parole violation stemming from a drug conviction. Makuhan allowed “family friends” to take care of her son while behind bars. Eliazar’s grandmother reportedly checked on the boy numerous times and everything seemed to be fine at first. Authorities later identified the family friends as Vega and Tolbert.
“There was no sign that anything was wrong,” the child’s cousin, Nikki Clark, previously said. “That’s what makes all of this so confusing…..I just don’t understand why someone would discard a child like that.”
According to preliminary autopsy reports, Eliazar had numerous drugs in his system,”including fentanyl,” FOX reports. An autopsy report indicated he also had two fractured arms. His death was ruled a homicide.
When authorities found the remains, they initially had no idea they discovered Eliazar. Investigators helped piece together his identity in 2017 via a composite sketch done by L. Spurlock for the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.
Mahukan saw the sketch while in jail and said it greatly resembled her son. She worked with detectives in identifying the boy by submitting to a DNA test. It was a match.
Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson noted that the boy had been dead for several months before he was discovered. Gilson estimated that the little boy died at some point between late spring to early summer of 2017.
It’s unclear why Eliazar’s grandmother, Dawn Battle, didn’t have custody, but she said she wanted to file a missing persons report in June 2017, but without custody, she wasn’t allowed to. She reported at the time that she thought the caregivers may have taken the boy out of state.
PHOTO: Mom with Eliazar Ruiz, 4yo whose remains were positively IDed. Mom recognized his sketch on TV while in jail. Family says she gave him to a friend to watch while she was incarcerated. pic.twitter.com/PN2xiomzTD
— Homa Bash (@HomaBashWEWS) January 24, 2018
Last year, Makuhan told NBC she hoped justice for her son came quickly. She indicated she left her son with a woman who she considered a “good mother” and close friend, and had no idea why the woman hurt her son.
“It’s a rough decision and I’m going to have to live with that for the rest of my life. I trusted her. She’s always been a good mother, I would’ve never picked her for my son if I would’ve ever thought that something like this would happen.”
Vega and Romaine are facing charges of murder, tampering with evidence, kidnapping, gross abuse of a corpse, child endangerment, and child abuse.
The story continues to develop. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
[Feature Photo: Eliazar Ruiz/Family Handout]