Phoenix girl, 4, dies after alleged child abuse

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Melissa Centeno and Sergio Luis Ortiz By Jennifer Thomas Melissa Centeno and Sergio Luis Ortiz By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX – A 4-year-old girl is dead and the child's mother and her live-in boyfriend have been arrested.

Melissa Centeno, 19, was booked on two counts of child abuse and is being held on $750,000 bond. Sergio Luis Ortiz, 22, was booked on one count of child abuse and is being held on $15,000 bond.

Paramedics and police officers were called to the family's apartment near Indian School Road and 71st Avenue at about 11:30 a.m. Sunday for an unresponsive 4-year-old girl. The paramedics notified officers of "suspicious bruising" on several parts of her body, according to a spokesman with the Phoenix Police Department.

Betzy Rodriguez-Centeno was taken to Phoenix Children's Hospital where doctors said she had numerous bruises and a distended abdomen. Blood tests of the victim were abnormal, which were consistent with internal injuries.

Medical staff worked to revive the victim, but she was pronounced dead a short time later.

Centeno told detectives that she struck her daughter in the abdomen Friday night, according to Officer James Holmes. Centeno said Betzy vomited and complained of abdominal pain over the weekend, but they did not seek medical attention until the girl stopped breathing Sunday morning.

Detectives learned that Ortiz had cared for the victim while Centeno was at work on Saturday. She told police that when she returned home, she observed bruising on her daughter's face that had not been there when she left.

Ortiz claimed he had spanked the victim but that any bruises to the face were the result of her falling in the bathtub. Holmes said the number and locations of the bruises were not consistent with Ortiz's story.

Centeno told police that she and Ortiz sometimes get "heavy handed" when hitting the child for discipline purposes, according to the court paperwork.

Child Protective Services responded to the home to foster the couple's 1-year-old child. Ortiz is not the biological father of the victim.

An autopsy for the victim has been scheduled to determine the cause of death. Additional charges are possible pending the results.