UK police found missing Calif. toddler after stopping woman in cold weather

jwarren@herald-leader.com, ljohnson1@herald-leader.comDecember 28, 2012 

*** UPDATE: Read the latest about this story filed Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. ***

The weather was cold Thursday afternoon, so two University of Kentucky police officers were concerned when they spotted a woman on campus pushing a stroller containing a small child who wore no gloves, coat or shoes.

Officers Emily Smith and Jeni Ockerman stopped the woman and started asking questions. The woman refused to answer and tried to hide the child's face.

UK authorities promptly launched a full-scale investigation, finding that the child, 17-month-old Alouette Day-Moreno-Baltierra, had been reported abducted in Los Angeles on Oct. 15.

By Friday, the child was in the custody of Kentucky Child Protective Services, and the woman who was with her, identified as Maria Baltierra-Dejesus faced charges of endangering the welfare of a minor and custodial interference. Officials were awaiting possible additional charges from California.

Baltierra-Dejesus, 62, is a resident of New York, UK Police Chief Joe Monroe said Friday. Los Angeles police said the woman is the child's grandmother. Monroe said she was refusing to cooperate with investigators.

Baltierra-Dejesus was in a UK healthcare facility late Friday, Monroe said. He declined to name the facility or provide information about why she was there.

"I can't discuss her condition at this point," he said.

Monroe did say that Baltierra-Dejesus would be transferred to the Fayette County jail after she is released from UK healthcare.

According to Monroe, Baltierra-Dejesus had a copy of the child's California birth certificate in her possession when officers stopped her. She also had passport documents indicating that she previously tried to leave the country with the child, Monroe said Friday.

UK officials are cooperating with the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies in their investigation, and they hope to have the child returned to California as quickly as possible, Monroe said.

A spokeswoman for the LAPD, Ofc. Sara Faden, said Friday the child had been reported missing in October by her mother, whom Faden did not identify. The mother walked into a police station in Central Los Angeles to make the report.

The mother told police the child was in the care of "Maria Baltierra, who is the child's grandmother and caregiver," Faden said. The mother indicated she did not know the whereabouts of her daughter or Baltierra.

The following day, the mother called back and tried to cancel the missing-persons report. She told police the child and Baltierra had been located, Faden said.

"As a protocol, we then asked the mother to bring the child into the police station or allow us to meet with her to verify that the child was in good condition and was safe," Faden said. "The mother refused and remained very evasive as to where the child was."

Los Angeles police did not cancel the missing persons report, and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services issued a warrant for Baltierra.

Monroe said there is evidence that Baltierra-Dejesus was receiving financial support from "somebody," and police are still trying to identify that person.

According to Monroe, Baltierra-Dejesus apparently has been in the Lexington area for about two days. It remained unclear Friday exactly how, when or why she came to Lexington and where she had been staying since getting here. Also unknown was where she and the child had been since the October abduction.

"Where has she been for the past two months? That's what we're trying to backtrack," Monroe said.

According to UK police, Baltierra-Dejesus first turned up Thursday with the child in an employee-only area of a UK health facility. At the time, she stated that she was trying to find a job as a doctor, Monroe said.

Baltierra-Dejesus, along with the child, stopped at about noon Thursday at Lexington's Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church. Pastor Woody Berry said Friday that Baltierra-Dejesus requested help in getting a bus ticket to Louisville, saying she had job interview there. Berry said she told him she was a medical doctor.

Berry said the woman indicated that she and the child had been in London and had spent Wednesday night in a waiting area at UK Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington.

Berry said he became suspicious of the woman's statements and tried to check her story on the Internet; he also checked Amber Alerts. He said he found nothing that could be clearly linked to the woman.

Berry said the woman then told him she was going to the UK campus to look for a place to stay and would be back in 30 minutes. She never returned, he said.

Sometime afterward, university officers Smith and Ockerman spotted Baltierra-Dejesus pushing the stroller across a parking lot near the Joe Craft Center.

Monroe said the officers were concerned because the child appeared very cold.

"Due to the inclement weather, our officers happened to notice that the baby ... did not have shoes on, didn't have any gloves or coat," he said.

Monroe said that when the officers approached Baltierra-Dejesus, she tried to hide the child's face, didn't want to answer questions about the child, and didn't want to provide documents of who the child's parents were.

Monroe praised the officers for acting to make sure the child received medical attention. He said that as of Friday afternoon, the child seemed to be doing well. But he described her as still being "scared."

He said California police "were afraid this was going to be another Casey Anthony case," a reference to Casey Marie Anthony, who was charged in the death of her missing 2-year-old daughter in Florida in 2008. Anthony eventually was acquitted of murder, but she was found guilty of misdemeanor charges.

Monroe said officers in California "are ecstatic" that Alouette Day-Moreno-Baltierra has been found alive. "We're very thankful the child was found safe," Faden said.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255

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