AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - The parents of Alexis Wartena couldn't hold back the tears Friday that told of their grief for their dead daughter and their ongoing effort to get their four other children back from state custody.
"All I want to do is get my kids back so I can go home and grieve," Alexis's mother, Michael Tiffany Stewart, said.
Stewart smiled as best she could when describing how having an autistic member of the family was challenging.
"It's harder. She needed more supervision and care. But we were happy. She was a happy little girl."
Alexis, a nonverbal girl with autism and one of the family's five children, was able to escape their room at the La Kiva Motel detection around 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Californian family was stopped in Amarillo as a midway point in their drive home from a vacation in Chicago.
Stewart said she went into the bathroom and returned to the shattering discovery Alexis was missing.
The family called 9-1-1 to report Alexis's disappearance. The Amarillo Police Department issued a public alert shortly after, which set in motion a widespread search effort by multiple area agencies into the evening hours.
Authorities found her body Wednesday morning in T-Anchor Lake, a shallow body of water located just north of the motel. An autopsy conducted the following morning revealed she drowned.
After Alexis was found, the Wartenas said Child Protective Services removed the other four children from their custody. Multiple family members have attempted to regain custody of the children but have been denied.
Per procedure, evidence from the parents was also collected by police as they investigated the young child's death. As of Friday, no charges have been officially filed.
The Wartenas' first hearing with CPS to get their children back is scheduled for August 2.
The family, however, is considering legal action and have already hired a lawyer in their pursuit to return home.
Amarillo attorney Jesse Quackenbush is representing the Wartena family in their confrontation with the city of Amarillo, demanding an internal investigation of police officers Michael Wartena said had "repeatedly tortured emotionally" Stewart.
A copy of the demand letter is below:
City Attorney Mick McKamie was unavailable for comment.
The father of the dead child, Michael Wartena, is accusing police of keeping him from continuing his frantic search for his daughter, instead interrogating him and his wife for hours.
"They took the sheets and blankets off our beds in our hotel rooms, so we didn't even have a place to sleep," Wartena said.
"Suitcases, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, all my kids clothes, all my clothes... They left shoes, that was it," Stewart said. "They went through our truck, took everything out of our truck, one by one."
The parents were able to see their children this morning for a brief time. They say the kids are confused and want to go home.
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