Family members say the Valley couple accused of leaving a 5-month-old boy in a car for hours are "goodhearted people" who made an honest mistake that turned deadly.
Jose Garcia, 18, and his girlfriend, Monique Avila, 23, are the boy's uncle and aunt. They each face one count of felony child abuse.
"It was an honest mistake. It was an accident," said Debbie, a distant cousin who agreed to speak publicly on behalf of other family members. "Monique and Jose, they've got two girls of their own, and they're good parents. They take care of their kids. They don't drink. They don't do drugs. They don't go out."
According to Peoria police, the couple admitted to leaving the child in a car for more than four hours outside an apartment near Peoria and 85th avenues.
"They told officers that they had forgotten about the child," said Officer Brandon Sheffert on Monday.
Avila recently helped the child's mother get a new job, relatives said, and drove the mother to work on Sunday. She agreed to watch the little boy, named Israel, while the mom worked.
"She would have never left the baby in the car and just not take him in," Debbie said. "They're good parents to their own two girls, and they're good uncles and aunts to the rest of their nieces and they're goodhearted people."
Avila and Garcia were both directly related to the boy by blood, one through each parent. Garcia is the brother of the baby's mother. Avila is the sister of the baby's father.
Relatives are trying to help the parents raise money for funeral expenses. They are planning a car wash Saturday at 8 a.m. at 15445 N. Greasewood St. in Surprise, plus another at the same time near Thunderbird and Dysart roads in El Mirage.
"You always see this happening to other people and you don't think it could happen to us," Debbie said.
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