Until their reunion two weeks ago, Patricia Jannel Morales of Paramount had not seen her 2 1/2-year-old daughter since the girl was an infant in Mexico. But Morales says she never considered giving up her search for Haydee Jeanette. "I never lost hope," the 21-year-old Morales said. "I always thought I would find her."
The girl disappeared after being left temporarily with a friend in Mexico, according to Morales, and now the child is the subject of a heated custody battle between Morales, who is her natural mother, and the woman who has raised her as a daughter for the last two years.
To Morales, the story of Haydee Jeanette's disappearance is a tale of a stolen child. But to Mary Alyce Ruiz, the 40-year-old Yucaipa woman who has been raising the girl, it is a story of abandonment. Both hope to get custody of the little girl at a hearing Tuesday in San Bernardino County Juvenile Court.
C. David Weed, the deputy district attorney appointed to represent the child, said it is the most unusual case he has seen in his 11 years in juvenile court.
The girl, who was picked up by San Bernardino County authorities April 9, is in a temporary foster home. Two weeks ago, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John F. Ingro ruled that Ruiz could have visiting rights, but not Morales. Superior Court Judge Patrick S. Morris, who is assigned to Juvenile Court, later changed that order, allowing both women to visit.
Morales, a Mexican citizen who was raised in Los Angeles County and now lives in Paramount, gave birth to the girl June 4, 1984, in Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles. She claims that Ruiz, a U.S. citizen, and her 21-year-old Mexican husband, Jorge, took advantage of circumstances when Morales had to interrupt a visit with relatives in Rosarito Beach and return to the United States.
Morales, who has three other children, said she left Haydee temporarily with an aunt in Rosarito Beach; Ruiz claims that Morales, whom she calls Patty, abandoned the girl there.
"We started out as baby sitters for Patty's aunt," Ruiz said. "But when it became apparent that Patty was not going to return, we started growing attached to the child, and when she was five months old, I found myself calling her 'Mommy's little girl.' "
Ruiz claims that she and her husband have been trying for two years to legally adopt the girl in Mexico. She said she did not learn until the first San Bernardino hearing in Ingro's court that the little girl, whom she has renamed Leticia Susana, is a U.S. citizen.
Southern California authorities became involved in the case when Morales telephoned Yvonne Parker, an investigator in the child abduction unit of the San Bernardino County district attorney's office, last December. Parker remembers that Morales told her she had been searching for Ruiz and had heard from friends that Ruiz and the girl might be in San Bernardino.
"I listened to her but told her that I didn't have any jurisdiction to help her," Parker said. "But she was insistent, and I'm glad she was."
"We absolutely believe that the child belongs with its natural mother," Parker said.
Couldn't Find a Job
Morales told the two investigators that she had moved to Mexico in September, 1984, with her 2-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and Haydee, to live near an aunt. But when she could not find adequate work, she returned to Los Angeles in early November with Jennifer. Haydee remained with a friend near the aunt's home, Morales said.
Morales said she had planned to pick up Haydee as soon as she was financially able. Her mother went to Rosarito Beach that same week to pick up Haydee.
There was a mix-up, however. Patricia Morales said she and her mother thought the aunt had the necessary birth records to bring Haydee to the United States. When it was discovered that she didn't, Haydee's grandmother had to return without her.
Morales said because she lacked money, she had to wait until February, 1985, to return to Rosarito Beach for the child. And, she said, her aunt assured her that the baby--who by then had been taken into the aunt's home--was fine.
Spent Time in Jail
On her way to retrieve Haydee, Morales said, she had a car accident and wound up in a Mexican jail. It was while she was still there that she learned, during a telephone call, that her daughter was with Jorge and Mary Ruiz.
"I was angry with my aunt, but she told me they were only baby-sitting because she could not afford to take care of Haydee," Morales said.
Morales claims that her aunt and Jorge Ruiz then came to the jail and asked her to sign papers letting Jorge adopt the child. Morales said she refused, adding she never gave the Ruizes permission to care for her child.
When she was released from jail, Morales begged her aunt to tell where the child was, but the woman refused, Morales said.
"I started going door to door asking people if they knew where an older white woman lived with a young Mexican, with a baby girl," Morales said. Morales finally found them in early April, 1985.