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Lawrence man charged in connection with death of Haverhill girl

Precious Wallaces died days after falling ill at this Lawrence rooming house. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2018
Precious Wallaces.GoFundMe

HAVERHILL — Police arrested a Lawrence man in connection with the death of an 11-year-old Haverhill girl, who was stricken last month at a rooming house and died days later at a Boston hospital.

The Essex district attorney’s office on Saturday morning announced charges against Miguel Rivera, 58. He is accused of permitting substantial bodily injury to a child and misleading a police investigation into the death of Precious Wallaces. She died Dec. 17 at Tufts Medical Center.

“It was a terrible, tragic case and I’m really glad they made an arrest,” Haverhill’s mayor, James J. Fiorentini, said Saturday.

In the aftermath of the young girl’s death, prosecutors said investigators were working to determine whether she was exposed to a toxic substance, possibly the synthetic drug fentanyl, a leading cause of overdose deaths.

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An autopsy was performed on Wallaces, who was a sixth-grader at Dr. Albert B. Consentino Middle School in Haverhill, but the medical examiner has yet to determine a cause or manner of death, the district attorney’s office said.

In an obituary, Rivera is listed as the girl’s uncle. Rivera was taken into custody Friday night after speaking with investigators at the Lawrence Police Department, said Carrie Kimball, a spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett.

She didn’t have further details, but said the investigation was ongoing and more charges could be filed.

Rivera is being held on $1 million bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Lawrence District Court. It was unclear whether he has a lawyer.

The same day Wallaces died, a State Police detective secured a search warrant for the Jackson Street rooming house in Lawrence where Rivera lived, court records show. A judge later sealed the warrant, writing that making the details public could potentially jeopardize a grand jury investigation.

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Emergency medical responders were called to the rooming house on Dec. 15 at about 3:30 a.m. after Wallaces suddenly became sick and lost consciousness, authorities have said.

Rescuers took her to Lawrence General Hospital and she was later flown to Tufts Medical Center by medical helicopter.

The day after Wallaces died, Fiorentini said he visited her school.

“The kids were really upset. They were crying,” he said. “It was a terrible day for our city.”

Documents filed in Lawrence District Court show Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, has a criminal record dating back to 1990, including cases in which he was sentenced to state prison.

In 1992, Rivera was ordered to serve five to six years in state prison after Middlesex County prosecutors charged him with firearm and drug offenses for cocaine and heroin, records show. It was unclear Saturday when he finished that prison term.

In 1996, he was sentenced to serve five years to five years and a day in prison for a subsequent offense involving Class A drugs, the records show.

Details about the cases weren’t available Saturday.

Over the past decade, Rivera has been prosecuted for offenses including assault with a dangerous weapon, firearms violations, drug possession, and larceny, court records show. His driving record includes violations going back to 1990.

On July 4, 2013, Rivera was among four people arrested in Lawrence after a cabdriver said he was attacked while trying to pick up a customer near the rooming house, according to a police report. When the driver pulled up, Rivera allegedly began yelling that no one had summoned a taxi and punched the window, the report said.

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The cabdriver radioed for help, prompting police and other cabdrivers to head toward the rooming house.

One taxi driver who answered the call for help said when he arrived Rivera reached into a red Honda Accord, pulled out a machete, and then swung it at his cab, leaving a dent and stripping paint from the exterior.

The same driver told police he heard a man call for a gun, but the report doesn’t identify who made the statement.

In June 2014, Rivera pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon and was placed on probation on the condition that he could spend up to a year in jail if he didn’t abide by court orders, records show.

In the Haverhill neighborhood where Wallaces lived, a neighbor said the girl enjoyed riding a pink bicycle with another girl who lived nearby.

“I wish she could come back home,” the neighbor said Saturday.

No one answered the door at the apartment where Wallaces lived.

On her death certificate the girl’s full name is listed as Precious-D’Armanie Ivettelyz Wallaces Rivera. She was born in Lawrence in August 2007 and had five brothers and a sister.

“She loved attending the after school activities at Youth Empowerment House in Haverhill, enjoying all the after school activities and making new acquaintances,” her obituary said.

The obituary described Wallaces as a “bright, beautiful, healthy, athletic girl” who loved fashion, “the art of make-up,” dressing, accessorizing, and experimenting with different hairstyles.

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“Precious was very adept with electronic devices and also had a gift for drawing,” the obituary said. “On first encounters she had a definite shy side, but once she opened up, all she wanted to do was put a smile on everyone’s face.”

A GoFundMe page launched after Wallaces’ death raised $7,628 to pay for funeral expenses.

“A bright light has been extinguished from the lives of everyone she touched, but the Gift of her Life, the beauty of her spirit, will continue to live in the hearts of all who knew her,” her obituary said.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.