As relatives mourned a woman and her two young daughters murdered and left in a West Miami-Dade walk-in closet, police questioned and released her estranged husband early Thursday.
Miami-Dade police won’t say whether Alberto Luis Sierra is a suspect or a “person of interest” in the deaths of his wife, Gladys Machado, and stepdaughters Julia and Daniela Padrino, ages 8 and 4.
He turned himself in Wednesday night to Miami-Dade’s Kendall station. Homicide detectives questioned him overnight and he was released. No charges were filed as the investigation continues.
Sierra certainly has a troubling past. He boasts a long history of arrests over drugs, weapons and domestic violence.
And as recently as October 2011, Sierra was investigated by the state’s child welfare agency after one of Machado’s daughters told a teacher that her stepfather had bitten her on the arm.
“I do believe their lives are in danger,” the girls’ biological father, Michael Padrino, wrote at the time in asking a Miami-Dade judge for sole custody of his children. “I’m begging on the mercy of the courts to help me and my children.”
But the judge declined to award him sole custody because the Department of Children and Families returned the children to Machado after briefly removing them from the woman’s home, court records show.
Authorities, awaiting final autopsy results, did not reveal how the girls and their mother died.
The couple had split, and the family was no longer living at the house. Machado, 29, and her daughters were last seen Saturday night when they left to go shopping. Her 6-year-old son remained at Machado’s grandmother’s Homestead home, where the family had been staying.
Teresa Lorenzana, a neighbor and long-time family friend, wondered why it took so long for the bodies to be discovered.
“What surprises me is the fact the boy had been with his grandmother all weekend,” Lorenzana said. “I don’t know how so many days could go by and nobody knew what happened.”
Then on Tuesday afternoon, a woman who rents an efficiency at the home found the bodies in a small walk-in master bedroom closet. She had not heard anything unusual in the days before the discovery, and the empty house was mostly tidy.
How exactly Machado and her daughters came to be at the house remains unclear. Investigators on Wednesday were still looking for Machado’s car and her belongings.
Machado, who friends said drove a gold Nissan Altima, worked as a registrar at the Beauty Schools of America at 1176 SW 67th Ave., where Wednesday teary students and staff gathered to remember her.
“We are deeply saddened,” said Jeff Gonzalez, the school’s executive director of operations.
Her children attended Lil’ Pirates Learning Center in West Miami-Dade.
“She was a very good mother,” said Olga Espinoza, whose children went to school with the girls.
Records show that Machado’s life was filled with domestic strife. She and Padrino, the father of all three kids, separated in February 2010, later divorcing in a long-running court battle marred by fights over child support payments.
Not long after Machado separated from Padrino, she began dating Sierra, 28, who described himself as a marble worker.
According to an arrest report, the two had been dating for two months and were living together in Homestead. During a “heated argument,” Sierra punched Machado’s arm as she tried to call police, then bit her arm, according to court documents.
Then, Sierra stole her gun and drove off in a maroon Ford Expedition, she told police. “The only way you’re getting this gun back is to shoot me,” he told her before escaping, according to the report.
She also claimed that Sierra, possibly under the influence of drugs or booze, had kicked her in the stomach..
But Machado said she later found her gun, and reported to police that it had not been stolen. Then she withdrew a petition for a restraining order.
When officers caught up with Sierra two months later, they found him with 79 grams of Ecstasy, a 9mm Smith & Wesson pistol and ammo. Sierra, police said, admitted that he had stolen the gun during a burglary a few months before.
In June 2011, a Miami-Dade judge sentenced Sierra to a year of probation, and he had to take a “values” course. By October 2011, Machado and Sierra married.
At the same time, Sierra was under police scrutiny again, first for driving as a habitual traffic offender. Then in November 2011, he was investigated by detectives investigating another burglary. At the time, he was living with Machado at the same Flagami-area house where she was later found dead.
Machado allowed officers to search the house. They found a short-barreled Rugar sawed-off rifle, a 410-gauge shotgun and ammo. He was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and his probation was revoked. Sierra later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 364 days in a Miami-Dade jail. Sierra was released on June 22 and returned to living with Machado.
The Padrino family declined to comment Wednesday. Court records show that Padrino, in October 2011, penned a hand-written motion asking for custody of all three kids.
According to his motion, a teacher reported that Julia arrived at school with a bite mark on her arm, blaming Sierra. Machado told DCF she was “unaware” of what happened, the motion said.
“DCF at that point declared it child abuse,” Padrino wrote.
The records show that Padrino was granted temporary custody of his namesake son as DCF investigated. It was unclear with whom the girls stayed with during the investigation.
But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Scott Bernstein, in his order denying the motion, acknowledged that DCF removed the children from the home but had since returned them.
A DCF spokeswoman acknowledged that Machado’s family had a history with the agency, but insisted case workers never removed the children.