Mother in Wisconsin found out about 11-year-old son's death in California online, 'from a news article'

PLACERVILLE, Calif. -- For the first time, Roman Lopez’s biological mother opened up about the loss of her son, who disappeared on Saturday, Jan. 11. Rochelle Lopez, who lives in Wisconsin, spoke with FOX6's sister station, KTXL in San Diego.

11-year-old Roman disappeared Saturday in Placerville, only to be found dead hours later.

“He was a sweet, kind little boy,” Rochelle Lopez said Tuesday, Jan. 14 in a video call with FOX40.

Police called Roman’s death suspicious.

“I had to find out that my son died from a news article,” Lopez said. “Nobody called me. His dad didn’t call me.”

The boy’s father had primary custody and recently moved his family to a home on Coloma Street in Placerville.

“I ended up getting deployed when Roman was about a year old to Iraq,” Lopez said.

Lopez said she came home from serving in the military with PTSD, health problems, and substance abuse issues, which is why she said she was not given custody of Roman.

“This is literally my worst nightmare, you know? said Lopez. "I moved to Wisconsin and started treatment so I could be back with my son and it's like, I feel like I just missed it. If I would have done this a month sooner, maybe it would be different right now.”

Investigators confirmed an autopsy was performed on the boy’s body on Tuesday but did not immediately release a cause of death.

All Lopez can do now is hope for answers and that her son didn’t suffer.

“Roman was the sweetest little boy and he definitely didn't deserve this,” Lopez said. “And I am going to do everything I can to figure out what happened. I’m actually getting ready to go from Wisconsin to California to say goodbye to my son and bring him back home.”

The other seven children who were living in this home were taken into protective custody, according to police.

A account has been set up to help with funeral expenses.

FOX6 actually spoke with Rochelle Lopez in February 2019 about how art therapy at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center has helped with her recovery.

Lopez told FOX6 she served in the Army for nine years, and her service ended with an injury.

"I was running a grenade range, and my aorta collapsed from the concussion waves of the grenades. I was medevaced out and had emergency open-heart surgery," Lopez told FOX6.

Lopez said she was prescribed painkillers after her surgery that led her life in a different direction.

“The next thing I know, I’m homeless, and I’m using street drugs," said Lopez. "I’m using heroin, cocaine, having so many different heart issues. I could feel my heart messing up."

Lopez turned to the VA for recovery. Art was part of her treatment.

"There are so many things that I wish I could say that don't come out right, but I could put it into my art -- whether I'm molding something with my hands or painting," said Lopez.

She entered one of her pieces into the Milwaukee VA Medical Center's Annual Creative Arts Festival, and won first place.