Prosecutor sheds light on Ray County couple’s alleged abuse of 9-year-old; questions still remain

RAY COUNTY, Mo. -- The Ray County prosecutor shed more light for FOX 4 on a couple's gruesome alleged abuse of a 9-year-old girl, but there are still several unanswered questions.

Police said a 9-year-old girl was abused by her uncle, who is also her legal guardian. Almost all of the abuse, the county prosecutor says, was done with the handle of an ax.

Camille Johnston, the Ray County prosecutor, sat down with FOX 4’s Rebecca Gannon on Tuesday to discuss the case.

“She has, I think, survived a lot of abuse in the past three years,” Johnston said, “and maybe even her life.”

Johnston said the 9-year-old endured unimaginable abuse from Mario Barreto.

The Ray County prosecutor said the child had huge indentations on her muscles and bones, not to mention numerous broken bones in various stages of healing. For example, Johnston said the 9-year-old has eight broken ribs in various states of healing, as well as a healing broken left arm.

Mario Barreto and Melissa Holloway

Barreto, 29, has been charged with 29 counts of abuse and neglect of a child in Ray County. His live-in girlfriend Melissa Holloway is also charged with more than 20 crimes because, Johnston said, the woman did nothing to help the young girl.

Barreto and Holloway were arraigned Tuesday in Richmond. The pair are charged with more than 50 counts of child abuse and neglect.

It should be noted there are three women named Melissa Holloway in Ray County, including one who is the current county treasurer. The woman in accused in this case is not the county treasurer.

“What happen to her actual body from the abuse is very disturbing,” Johnston said. “I couldn’t even imagine it myself until I saw (pictures of) it.”

Investigators said it all happened at Barreto’s home between Camden and Henrietta on Highway T. The home has children’s toys in the yard. The prosecutor told FOX 4 two other children, Holloway's biological children, also lived there, but they weren’t abused, as far as Johnston knows.

Ironically, it was the girl's most recent injury -- when investigators say Barreto crushed the girl’s fingers with an ax handle -- that finally brought her to the hospital and help.

“But the last injury that occurred was to her hand,” Johnston said, “and it was very visible and very destructive. I think that is how she got saved.”

Health care workers are mandatory reporters of suspected abuse. Johnston said that is what began to uncover the abuse.

Three of her fingers were smashed, according to court documents. One, Johnston said, will have to be amputated.

“The abuse that she suffered for the entire time that she was with her uncle was very severe. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Johnston said.

Moreso, it has people talking.

“A lot of people do know about it,” Johnston said. “I even know some people saying their kids are talking about it at school.”

“It makes people realize that these things are happening,” she added, “and that people need to tell. And people are aware of it and they are concerned.”

The girl, who Johnston described as “a strong little girl,” is in foster care outside of Ray County now.

Court documents show the girl’s biological father died and Barreto became the girl’s guardian roughly three years ago. Johnston believes the girl’s mother abandoned her.

However, there are still a lot of questions out there.

In court documents, the child told officials Holloway was a mandatory reporter. FOX 4 couldn’t confirm Holloway was employed at all, let alone in a child care, health care or law enforcement capacity.

FOX 4 also reached out to the Missouri Department of Family Services to ask if anyone had ever reported abuse. As of Tuesday evening, FOX 4 hasn’t heard back.

Many have asked how a teacher or someone at school didn't notice the abuse.

“I think the reason no one told us is because no one saw this, because it’s hard to tell, because its covered up with clothes,” Johnston said.

FOX 4 reached out to the Richmond School District superintendent, but he didn't return our call.