Child Death

NBC 7 Investigates: Questions Linger About Death of 11-Year-Old Adopted Girl in Spring Valley

Homicide investigation underway after deputies say they suspected child abuse

NBC Universal, Inc.

An adopted 11-year-old girl named Aarabella died at a San Diego County hospital on Tuesday, Aug. 30. More than a week later, after NBC 7 Investigates reached out, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department released a statement confirming detectives were actively investigating Aarabella’s death as a homicide. Three weeks after her death, there are still very few answers from county officials about what killed Aarabella or who, if anyone, is responsible. 

Medics first arrived at the family’s home on Lakeview Drive in Spring Valley around 2 a.m. on Aug. 30 to reports of a child in distress. The sheriff’s department said its deputies suspected possible child abuse and launched a homicide investigation after Aarabella died. NBC 7 has repeatedly asked the department for more information, but our questions aren’t being answered.

The sheriff’s department did confirm that Aarabella’s adoptive father took his own life in front of deputies. Relatives and neighbors say that man, Brian McCormack, killed himself in his truck outside of his house.

This picture from 2015 shows Aarabella at the beach.
Torriana Florey
This picture from 2015 shows Aarabella at the beach.

Aarabella’s biological mother and a neighbor both told NBC 7 Investigates that Brian McCormack and his wife, Leticia, adopted Aarabella and her two younger sisters. They also say Aarabella’s adoptive father was a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent. The agency wouldn’t confirm that, only replying, “...that a Border Patrol Agent from San Diego Sector died by suicide. No further information is available at this time.”

The adoptive mother, Leticia McCormack, has been an important figure in San Diego’s Rock Church for several years, serving as the ministry leadership program coordinator. She was also an ordained elder. However, a media spokeswoman for the church says it has put her ordained status on hold. She says that’s why the leadership page on the church website was taken down right after Aarabella's death and restored two weeks later with Leticia's bio removed. Leticia has not been charged in connection with the child’s death. NBC 7 Investigates reached out to her several times but has not heard back.

Two neighbors who spoke with NBC 7 Investigates didn’t know about Aarabella’s death, only Brian’s. That includes Jenn Kuroski who’s lived next door to the McCormacks for four years. She says the family kept to themselves and she didn’t even know they had any children because they were never outside the house.

“The only time I saw children there was when we first moved in four-and-a-half years ago,” Kuroski said. “There were two little girls sitting on the stoop waiting outside. I assumed they were friends of visitors to the house, not that they live there because I have never seen children playing, coming and going to school. I've never heard children.”

An aerial view of the McCormacks' family home in Spring Valley
NBC 7
An aerial view of the McCormacks' family home in Spring Valley

NBC 7 Investigates repeatedly reached out to San Diego County Health & Human Services, which operates its Child Welfare Services (CWS) division. The county refuses to answer any of our questions about the adoptions or where the younger girls are now. CWS won’t say if it’s ever received any allegations of abuse since the children were placed in the care of Brian and Leticia McCormack. It also won’t tell us the last time the county had contact with the family or the girls, or how often social workers visited the home during the foster care and adoption process. 

CWS is withholding the information, citing an exemption to state public records laws. The exemptions were designed to protect the integrity of active criminal investigations. 

The San Diego County Medical Examiner says it isn’t allowed to reveal anything about Aarabella or Brian McCormack’s deaths, saying the reports are under seal by request of the sheriff’s department.

While government agencies are staying tight-lipped, NBC 7 Investigates has spoken with the girls’ biological parents, relatives of the adoptive family and several neighbors. Due to the difficulty obtaining information from the county about this case, we’ve been unable to independently confirm the following information. However, the details shared with us separately from relatives and neighbors have matched. That includes details about the girls, who they say lived at the McCormacks’ home since around 2017, with the county finalizing their adoptions in 2019. They also say Aarabella was pulled out of school several years ago and Leticia homeschooled all three girls. The biological parents told us they’ve been trying to get their girls back, but say their caseworker told them they’re not allowed to share more details about their own case.

Aarabella’s biological father is a member of the Mesa Grande Band of Diegueño Mission Indians. There is added complexity to foster care and adoptions involving Native American children. NBC 7 Investigates reached out to the tribe multiple times to talk about what’s happening, but it didn’t want to comment. It referred us to two officials to talk about the case as well as about adoptions that take place under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Neither of those individuals responded to our calls or emails.

None of the government agencies mentioned above notified the media about the deaths of Aarabella or Brian McCormack. We only learned about this case due to tips to our investigative team. If you have a story you’d like to be investigated, submit a tip right here on our website.

Contact Us