A year before she was fatally stabbed, Katherine Miranda Jaramillo, 6, told school officials her mother wanted to kill her. A year since her and her brother’s deaths at the hands of her mother, investigations into the case have provided little clarity on the situation leading up to the murders.
“(She) was asked if she was afraid to go home, and she said yes — because mom scares her with the mask,” according to Division of Family and Children Services’ records of a Dec. 16, 2019, report obtained by The Times. “When (she) was asked if (her mother) ever hurts her brother, she said yes — (her mother) hits him with the belt.”
Katherine and younger brother, Mateo Jaramillo, 5, were killed by their mother, Berenice Jaramillo-Hernandez, 27, on Dec. 11, 2020, at the family’s home in northeast Hall County.
DFCS, which had been involved in the family’s life for roughly 15 months before the deaths, said in October that there was no information that showed the girl or her younger brother were not safe.
The Times reached out to the local DFCS office for an interview regarding the case and any subsequent review, but that interview request was forwarded to the state office.
After weeks of requests, DFCS sent a public statement to The Times:
“In the months following this tragedy, the Division has reviewed the case multiple times, looking for any indication that the children’s lives were in danger. This included a review of the work of the Division to assess the safety of a child, the protective capacity of their caregiver, and the level of intervention needed, if any, to keep the child safe. While the file does contain two previous reports for this family, the information gathered gives no indication of the potential violence of the mother against her children; furthermore, no information could be validated that indicated the children were not safe to remain in her care. We remain deeply saddened by the loss of these two lives and will continue to review the circumstances leading up to the day their mother took their lives and work to learn everything we can to prevent this from happening to another child.”
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office responded around 2 p.m. Dec. 11 to a report that a woman had cut herself at a home on Crescent Drive. They found Jaramillo-Hernandez with serious injuries to her neck and her two children dead. Blood covered the walls. The two children were found wearing pajamas and facemasks, lying side by side in a bed with their throats slit.
Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said at the sentencing hearing that the mother’s case was a “death penalty eligible case.” Jaramillo-Hernandez was sentenced in July to consecutive life sentences after a guilty plea.
The Times paid $200.28 to obtain the DFCS case file for the two children, which were still partially redacted. The reasons for the redactions cited by DFCS were sections of Georgia law related to confidentiality in child abuse records as well as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA.
In a Child Protective Services intake report filed the day the children died, the case manager said there was “related history found for (birth mother) saying that she was going to kill (victim child).”
DFCS had been involved in the lives of Katherine and Mateo following a report of sexual abuse involving someone outside of the family.
The case manager later told Jaramillo-Hernandez that the case was closed and that she would need to contact the criminal investigator for why the case did not proceed further.
In one report from September 2019, Jaramillo-Hernandez told DFCS she had been in the country for roughly a year after leaving Mexico.
“She stated that she was very scared of being reported and sent back to Mexico as she is afraid her ex will kill her and her younger children,” according to the report. “(Case manager) assured her that they are here only in the interest of helping them as a family and ensuring the children are safe.”
Multiple family friends told DFCS about how Jaramillo-Hernandez was a “loving and caring mother.”
On Dec. 16, 2019, about a year before her death, Katherine reportedly came into the school classroom “very upset, eyes were puffy and acted very scared,” according to the report.
“(She) told the teacher she had a bad dream of someone wearing a mask trying to scare her and that it was her mom wearing the mask,” according to the report.
Plus the previous history, if that does not cause a child to, temporarily anyway, to be taken out of the home, I don’t know what does.Now-retired Fair Street counselor Kim Hall
When asked what happened, Katherine said her mother “pushed her against the wall and put rubber bands around her ankles and wanted to kill her because she took her brother’s toys.”
The next day, the case manager met with Katherine in the Fair Street International Academy media center. Katherine told the case manager “her mom and sister punches her every day,” and said the sister’s name was Mateo. During the interview there may have been a language barrier between Katherine and the case manager because Mateo is the younger brother of Katherine.
The case manager asked if anyone was scaring her with a mask, to which she “looked confused” and said no before mentioning that she wanted a Halloween mask like her neighbor has.
The case manager interviewed Jaramillo-Hernandez that same day. She denied hitting or punching the child and said she had no idea what Katherine was talking about with the mask.
The case manager “assessed the children and the home and found no concerns,” according to the assessment of that report.
Retired Fair Street counselor Kim Hall made the December 2019 DFCS referral.
“Plus the previous history, if that does not cause a child to, temporarily anyway, to be taken out of the home, I don’t know what does,” Hall said.
Hall said she did play therapy with Katherine regularly during the child’s time at Fair Street. She remembered Katherine as a timid, smart girl who didn’t quite fit in with the other children.
“It appeared that there was some stuff going on that she just couldn’t explain,” Hall said.
Hall was shocked when she heard the statement by DFCS and some of the remarks made by the case manager, including that the children “are not afraid of the mother” and are “always loving on her when they are in the room together.”
“Children who are abused and traumatized, especially little ones, they will love up on their parents,” Hall said. “Their life is dependent on that parent. They’re afraid, but they also love that parent.”
Hall said she did not recall getting any follow-up calls from DFCS, though she said that was not unusual due to the busy caseloads.
“Through my career, it was not unusual at all for cases to be dismissed prematurely,” Hall said.