Family of nine-year-old boy murdered in La Rioja calls for suspect ‘to rot in jail’

Speaking at a demonstration on Sunday, the great uncle of the victim, Álex, questioned why the alleged murderer Francisco Javier Almeida had been released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for another killing

A protest held in Lardero (La Rioja) on Sunday in the wake of the killing of Álex.
A protest held in Lardero (La Rioja) on Sunday in the wake of the killing of Álex.Lino Rico

The family of Álex, the nine-year-old boy who was murdered last Thursday in Lardero, in Spain’s northern La Rioja region, is “devastated.” His parents and six-year-old brother have been broken by the painful loss. The boy’s great uncle, Gonzalo Martín, described the desolation that has taken hold in the family home. “The parents have been destroyed,” he said on Sunday. “The grandparents crushed.”

Martín opted to take part in a public protest that was held yesterday in Enterríos square. That was where the alleged killer kidnapped his victim before supposedly strangling the child in his home. The suspect, Francisco Javier Almeida, is already behind bars. A court in Logroño ordered him to be held in custody without bail, and he has been accused of homicide. Almeida has opted not to make a statement.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” said Álex’s great uncle after the demonstration, which brought together around 500 demonstrators. “This evil killer should have been in jail for life. We want him to rot in prison and never come out. We will never get our Álex back.

Álex was an “affectionate, dynamic and happy child, who did theater and liked Halloween,” according to his relative. Martín described him as a hero because he “fought with a killer. Although he lost the battle, he left triumphant, he left a man,” Martín told journalists on Sunday.

The family is not aware of the exact details of how the life of their child ended, and they have raised doubts about some of the versions that have been circulating. “He wasn’t trusting,” his great uncle said on Sunday. “And we don’t believe that the killer would deceive him by asking him to come and see a puppy, because we have a property with a German Shepherd on it and the child was scared of dogs. And neither did he take him away telling him about some birds,” he continued, referring to his grand-nephew in the present tense.

Álex and his little brother were playing with other children in the park in Entrerríos square on Thursday evening and “in a question of a minute he disappeared,” Martín explained. “His parents wouldn’t leave their children alone for a minute, they are always vigilant. I don’t believe that he was taken due to a mistake made by the parents. The mother said, ‘we’ll have dinner in a minute,’ and in a minute he was gone. When the mother came out, her son wasn’t there. His parents were very committed to their children, they gave them an education and know-how…”

The child and his family were due to celebrate Halloween together on Sunday – it was his favorite fiesta. But now they have been crippled with pain, something that was also clear to see on the faces of the dozens of people who came out to protest on Sunday.

The residents applauded Martín and supported his calls for a “neighborhood where you can live freely and without fear.” “Let Álex be the last one,” he said to reporters. He also lamented the fact that the justice system and the government had not been able to prevent such a tragic incident.

Gonzalo Martín, tío abuelo del pequeño Álex, participa en la concentración ciudadana en Lardero (La Rioja).
Gonzalo Martín, tío abuelo del pequeño Álex, participa en la concentración ciudadana en Lardero (La Rioja).Lino Rico

Almeida was released from prison in April 2020, after having served 20 years of a 30-year sentence for the murder of a woman. He had previously been convicted of sexual assault. Logroño prison, the public prosecutor and a judge all found that he met the requirements for release. He had previously been let out of jail on 39 different occasions without incident.

“The justice system could have done something against this murderous individual who we had loose around here,” said Martín. “The justice system has no reason to release a murderer and leave him on the street when he killed a real estate agent and raped a 13-year-old girl. I believe he should have been in jail for life.”

“Today it happened to me with Álex, but it could have happened with any other child that he tried to take with him last week,” Martín continued, in reference to reports that Almeida had tried to lure away children in the area on a number of occasions in the past weeks. He argued that the toughest jail sentence in Spain, a kind of life sentence known as “revisable permanent imprisonment,” serves for nothing. Under this system, prisoners can be released after 25 years if they are considered to have been rehabilitated. If not they will remain behind bars. He questioned the use of such a system “if they let [Almeida] out 39 times. While released he could have done the same as what he did to my nephew. We’ve had enough.” Martín called on the Interior Ministry to find a solution to the problem of life sentences in Spain. “Let my nephew be the last one,” he said.

Speaking during an official visit to La Palma, the Canary Island where a volcano has been erupting since late September, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska stated that his department is “evaluating and assessing” the facts of this crime, but he added that changes to the legislation should not be considered while feeling are still running so high. “That is not usually the best legislative approach,” the minister said.

Marlaska also pointed out that since 2010 there has been a system of “supervised release” to monitor convicts once they are freed. But this could not have been applied in the case of Francisco Javier Almeida, given that he was convicted before that year.

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