The family of a 7-year-old Oceanside girl allegedly killed by her father held a fundraiser Saturday to collect donations that will help pay for the child’s funeral.
The smiling face of Mariah Araujo was seen in family photos on display at the fundraiser at Buddy Todd Park in Oceanside. There, loved ones and friends gathered to remember the sweet girl abruptly ripped from their lives.
A handwritten note taped to the bottom of one of the child’s photos read, in both English and Spanish: "We are asking for donations for Mariah Araujo’s funeral expenses. Anything you can give would be great."
Mariah Araujo’s cousin, Carolina Fuentes, spoke with NBC 7 Saturday about what she will remember most about the "joyful" girl.
"Her smile; her beautiful smile," said Fuentes. "And she had the most beautiful, long hair. She was just a joyful, playful girl, just like everybody else her age."
"She was very happy," said Julia Araujo, the girl's great-aunt. "She was smiling all the time."
Fuentes said her younger cousin was a fan of slime and loved playing with her little sister.
"They would probably be playing around right now," she added.
Instead of watching Mariah Araujo play, her family is now planning for a burial they never imagined.
On July 31, Mariah Araujo was found dead in the bathtub of her family’s home on Las Vegas Drive. The Oceanside Police Department said the girl had suffered trauma to her upper body.
Mariah Araujo's father, Pedro Araujo, 27, was found at the home with blood on his clothing. He was arrested on suspicion of killing his daughter.
At Pedro Araujo's arraignment earlier this week, a prosecutor detailed the heinous crime, alleging the suspect had stabbed the girl 10 times, wounding her in the neck, spine, shoulder and elbow. San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Saunders said some of those stab wounds were defensive.
The killing happened while Mariah Araujo's younger sister, who is 6, was also at the family home, investigators said. The younger girl was not hurt.
According to police, Pedro Araujo had called his mother that day -- Mariah Araujo's grandmother -- to ask her to come to the home to pick up both of his daughters.
When the grandmother arrived, she could only find her 6-year-old granddaughter. Her son would not let her see Mariah Araujo, Oceanside police said. Pedro Araujo's mother noticed blood on her son's shirt, took the younger child from the home and called police.
Pedro Araujo pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday. Judge James Simmons ordered he be held on no bail due to being a danger to the community and his family.
As Saunders revealed details of Mariah Araujo's slaying, her father hung his head. Some of the girl's family members were in the court gallery and could be heard crying during the proceedings.
Mariah Araujo’s mother, Vivian Arzola, was among those in the courtroom. She spoke with reporters after the arraignment, saying she wants "justice for Mariah."
"It’s not fair that he took my daughter away from me," Arzola said of Pedro Araujo. "He deserves to be in jail for life."
Saunders said Pedro Araujo could face up to 26 years in prison if convicted on charges of first-degree murder and child abuse.
According to court documents obtained by NBC 7 earlier this month, Pedro Araujo has a lengthy criminal record that includes arrests spanning the last six years.
Charges include fraud and grand theft in 2013; giving false information to authorities about his identity in 2015; and felony vandalism and misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine in 2016.
After his 2016 arrest, Araujo was ordered to complete an anger management class. In 2018, he was charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence and hit and run.
According to investigators, police had been called to the family’s home within the two weeks before Mariah Araujo's killing for some sort of incident involving Pedro Araujo.
Mariah Araujo’s grandfather told NBC 7 he owns the family home in Oceanside and had been renting it to Pedro Araujo, who is his stepson. He said Pedro Araujo had full custody of his daughters and was raising them with the help of his mother and stepfather.
According to the grandfather, Pedro Araujo was known to become aggressive when he drank alcohol. Arzola told NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 Tuesday that Pedro Araujo has no medical history of mental health issues.
Julia Araujo told NBC 7 Saturday that Pedro Araujo, who is her nephew, had been depressed for about a year, ever since one of his cousins died. She said he had started using drugs.
"I’m 100% sure that he didn’t want to do this," Julia Araujo told NBC 7. "I know he wasn’t well. I know he didn’t want to do this to her because he loved her."
"It sucks because I feel like us – as a family – and people around him and his friends could have done more to help him out with the girls more," Fuentes added. "To prevent him from falling into drugs"
Julia Araujo said it’ll be up to investigators to determine her nephew's fate but, for now, the family is deeply grateful for the support of the community in remembering Mariah Araujo.
Julia Araujo said people the family has never even met came out to Mariah Araujo’s fundraiser Saturday, some donating food for the event and others money for the girl’s funeral.
"We thank everyone, from the bottom of our hearts," she added.
In addition to Saturday's fundraiser, Mariah Araujo's family has created a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of the girl's funeral. At last check, the family had collected more than $5,600.
Julia Araujo said another fundraiser for Mariah Araujo is planned for Sunday in Vista. The family hopes to collect enough money to be able to hold the girl's funeral next week.