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Man charged with killing 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver ordered held without bail

Alberto Sierra Jr., 32, is led into a courtroom in Worcester Superior Court on May 18, 2023, during his arraignment on charges of murder and disinterring of a body in connection with the 2013 killing of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old from Fitchburg, whose body was found in a suitcase on the side of the road in Sterling five months after his death.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The man charged with killing 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, who went missing in Fitchburg in September 2013 and whose body was found in a suitcase by the side of a road in Central Massachusetts in 2014, was ordered to remain held without bail Friday while the case is pending, prosecutors said.

Alberto L. Sierra, 32, was ordered held during a hearing in Worcester Superior Court, where he’d pleaded not guilty last week to charges of murder and disinterring a body, according to District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.’s office.

Sierra’s next hearing is slated for June 28, according to legal filings. His lawyer didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.


In court Friday, prosecutors said Jeremiah was killed as he tried to defend his mother, Sierra’s then-girlfriend Elsa Oliver, whom Sierra had just head-butted, MassLive reported.

As Elsa Oliver went to the bathroom, prosecutors reportedly said Friday, Jeremiah emerged from a closet where the couple had him sleep and told Sierra words to the effect of “Don’t touch my mommy,” before Sierra grabbed him by the head and slammed him down and the boy stopped moving, according to MassLive.

Spokespersons for Early confirmed Friday that Sierra had been held without bail but would not confirm what prosecutors said in court.

In a statement last week, prosecutors said the medical examiner determined Jeremiah’s death to be a homicide and the cause as “homicidal violence of undetermined” nature.

Authorities had focused on Sierra for years, in 2017 calling him the “principal actor” in the child’s death.

Sierra previously pleaded guilty to assaulting Jeremiah’s mother and two of the boy’s siblings, and Elsa Oliver pleaded guilty to endangerment charges relating to her surviving children. Sierra was sentenced in 2017 to six to seven years in state prison, but he was not in custody when he was arrested last week on the new murder charge.


Jeremiah, remembered at his funeral as a happy, smiling boy who loved to play in the dirt and collect bugs, was last seen in September 2013, though his disappearance was not reported until December of that year when his sister told school officials he was missing.

On April 18, 2014, authorities acting on a tip found Jeremiah’s remains in the suitcase on the side of Interstate 190 in Sterling.

Reports of the horrifying death of Jeremiah caused widespread outrage and led to a major shakeup at the state Department of Children and Families, which was monitoring the family. After an investigation revealed that a social worker had missed eight monthly visits with the boy, that worker and two supervisors were fired. A month later, the DCF commissioner, Olga Roche, resigned.

When Charlie Baker became governor in 2015, he prioritized reform of DCF and appointed Linda S. Spears, a prominent child welfare advocate, to lead the agency. Later that year, Baker and the social workers’ union agreed to a series of policy changes designed to strengthen the agency’s ability to investigate abuse allegations and track missing children.

The DCF said in a statement last week that “Jeremiah Oliver and those who loved him deserve justice and today is an important step forward.”

“Following Jeremiah’s tragic death in 2014, DCF and the union representing front line social workers initiated a sweeping system-wide reform that prioritized child safety by overhauling several outdated core policies, establishing the first Supervision Policy in the Department’s history to support social workers, increasing front line social worker staff, lowering caseloads, and modernizing operations to serve children and families more efficiently,” the statement said.


The department said it continues to work to improve monitoring of policies, child safety data, and other caseload trends. The department said its funding is up 45 percent since 2016 and its total caseload is down 22 percent, and cases are now spread among more social workers.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.