(Reuters) - The mother of the girl known as "Baby Hope," who was murdered and put in a cooler in 1991 and just recently identified, told a TV station on Tuesday that she did not report her daughter's disappearance because did not realize the girl was missing.
The New York girl was identified as 4-year-old Anjelica Castillo, after two decades of investigation. Her mother, Margarita Castillo, told Telemundo Nueva York in an interview published online by NBC 4 New York, that the child left with her father and a sister after her parents split up.
"Because she wasn't missing - her father took them away and maybe that was my mistake, let him take them away," said Castillo, 52. "I did not go to the police because I was afraid of not being heard. I was afraid, not knowing the language."
Anjelica was living with relatives at the time she was raped and suffocated, police have said.
Conrado Juarez, 52, a relative of the victim on her father's side, was arrested on Saturday in connection with the case.
The mother told Telemundo that her biggest regret was allowing her daughter to leave with her father, according to the report.
The extraordinary brutality of the "Baby Hope" case shocked New Yorkers as news accounts cited investigators' findings about her final days.
Her bound, asphyxiated body was found packed under soda cans inside a cooler along a Manhattan highway in July 1991. She had been starved and sexually abused in the days preceding her death, investigators said.
New York detectives who worked on the case for years had called the unidentified child "Baby Hope" and paid for her funeral and burial when no one came forward to claim her - and vowed never to give up their pursuit of her killer.
A fresh lead emerged last summer after police cold case investigators launched a publicity campaign tied to the 22nd anniversary of the gruesome 1991 discovery.
Chief among the lingering questions is why no one - her mother, father, relatives, neighbors or any of Castillo's nine other children by three different men - ever reported the child missing.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks; editing by Gunna Dickson)