Boy locked inside burning basement; caretaker charged

12 year-old boy rescued by fast acting neighbors

Young child trapped in burning basement

EL PASO, Texas - Neighbors near the 1500 block of Upson in El Paso's Sunset Heights neighborhood awoke to screams Saturday morning.

ABC-7s Alec Schreck was among the people who came outside. He smelled smoke billowing out of a basement and heard a child screaming, "Let me out -- Daddy help me, it's on fire."

Schreck, and other neighbors, attempted to kick in the door to the basement which was locked. After neighbors knocked on the door Manuel Varela, 42, eventually came to the door.  Police say that he went to the door and unlocked it, allowing the boy to come out.

"I went through the back and I just tried to like open the doors," said Amy Kahn, the neighbor who banged on the door until Varela answered. "Everything was locked, so I kept banging and finally the man came out and the little boy came out."

Police have since charged Varela with abandoning or endangering a child with criminal negligence. He is being held on a $3,000 bond.

Police believe that Varela locks the 12-year-old boy into his room every night. Varela was not the parent of the child. Investigators referred to him as the child's "caretaker."

According to police the young child's statement indicated that Varela told the child to return to his room and get clothing. Investigators believe the fire was still burning inside the room when he was told to go back inside to get clothing.

Based on the living situation of the child, and Varela's reaction to the fire, Child Protective Services has been notified.

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