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News / Clark County News

Grandparents in court suspected of assaulting 7-year-old Vancouver boy, moving him to avoid repercussions

Pair to be arraigned Dec. 18 with bail set at $100,000 each

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: December 6, 2023, 7:53pm

Authorities say a Vancouver 7-year-old went missing for eight months because his grandparents tortured him and then took him to Missouri to avoid the repercussions.

Masterino E. Machuo, 55, and Refoela K. Refalopei, 51, appeared Monday in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of first-degree assault of a child and first-degree custodial interference.

Judge Suzan Clark set their bail at $100,000 each. They’re scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 18. Clark also ordered them to surrender their passports.

In court records, detectives called them public safety and flight risks, and they said the couple cannot be trusted to abide by court orders.

“This investigation has been intentionally confounded for many months due to Refoela Refalopei and Masterino Machuo’s willingness to move people and evidence across state lines,” a probable cause affidavit states. “They have consistently lied to and been uncooperative with police and Child Protective Services. They have a vast national and international network of family members who have willingly facilitated the abuse of (the boy).”

Vancouver police responded June 14, 2022, to an apartment at 4701 N.E. 72nd Ave., for reports of a disturbance. A woman reported her parents, whom she identified as Machuo and Refalopei, were physically abusing and starving their 7-year-old grandson. The woman said the child, who was not at home, had been badly beaten and burned with cigarettes, according to the affidavit.

Police returned three days later, and Refalopei told them her grandson “left with an auntie” sometime in 2021, but she wouldn’t give them the aunt’s name, address or phone number, court records state.

Police and officials with Child Protective Services contacted the couple July 15, 2022, and served them with a court order mandating the boy be transferred to state custody. Refalopei again told investigators an aunt had taken him away, the affidavit says.

Detectives learned that on Aug. 17, 2022, Machuo flew with the boy and another relative who works for an airline to Kansas City, Mo. Machuo later returned to Portland, and the other relative flew to Phoenix, leaving the child in Missouri, according to court records.

On Feb. 15, officials located the child’s mother when she flew from Micronesia to Guam. In Guam, FBI agents interviewed her. She told them she’d spoken to her son three days prior and that he was safe. She gave investigators the name of a relative in Missouri her son was staying with, court records state.

Two days later, Jackson County, Mo., sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the relative’s address and found the boy. He was brought back to Washington and placed with foster parents, the affidavit states.

A series of injuries

The boy’s foster families told officers he showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. They also reported his body “bore a mosaic of scars,” many of which police said were in areas commonly associated with abuse, such as between his fingers and on the top of his feet, according to the affidavit.

Medical staff from Legacy Health System’s Child Abuse Assessment Team documented a series of injuries, which included scars on his head, face, neck and limbs. Officers also noted the child reported he’d been starved on at least one occasion, and when he was allowed to eat again, he vomited, according to court records.

On Nov. 21, detectives received a report from Child Protective Services that indicated the boy had reacted to his foster mother using a broom. When his foster parents told him they would never beat him with it, the boy reportedly told them he was routinely abused while living in Machuo and Refalopei’s house, and that “Papa” used to beat him with his crutches. Detectives recalled Machuo had been using crutches when police had previously contacted him. The boy also said he had been instructed not to cooperate with police, court records state.

Officers arrested Machuo and Refalopei on Friday. In a recorded police interview, Machuo initially denied taking the boy out of state, but he later admitted he did. He said he believed if officials found his grandson they would have taken him away. Machuo denied causing the grandson’s injuries, but police said Machuo also told them corporal punishment was part of his culture and he’d used that punishment on the boy.