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Natural Mother Gets Toddler in Custody Fight

May 28, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

Susie Q. became Haydee Jeanette last week, making one mother very happy and breaking her other mother's heart.

The child, soon to turn 3, had become the subject of a heated custody battle between two women: her natural mother and the woman who raised her for more than two years as her own daughter.

A San Bernardino Superior Court judge ruled last week in favor of the toddler's natural mother, Patricia Morales, 21, of Paramount.

For Morales, Judge Duke D. Rouse's decision ended a long, Kafkaesque quest in search of the baby she said was kidnaped by Mary and Jorge Ruiz in Mexico.

She Claimed Baby Was Abandoned

For Mary Ruiz, 40, of Yucaipa, the judge's decision ended a life with the baby who she said was abandoned by Morales.

As a result of being separated from the only mother she has known, Ruiz said, the toddler will be traumatized for life. "Don't you guys know what you are doing to that baby?" Ruiz cried out before running from the courtroom after the judge's ruling.

The judge, according to authorities, responded: "I think, more appropriately, we are trying to undo that which was done to the baby."

Investigators and attorneys involved in the case say it is one of the most unusual situations they have ever seen. "It's a very bizarre case, and it's a very tragic case. There has been a lot of pain on every side, including the child's," said San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Verna Carey. "It's a real tragedy all the way around. It's very, very sad."

The unusual case would not even have reached a courtroom had not an investigator with the San Bernardino County sheriff's office, Hector O'Campo, and an investigator with the district attorney's child abduction unit, Yvonne Parker, crossed paths and compared notes.

Morales credits O'Campo and Parker for bringing her together with Haydee Jeanette, born June 4, 1984, in Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles.

"I really thank all of them who have helped me, especially Yvonne and Hector O'Campo. If it hadn't of been for them. . . ." Morales did not finish the sentence. Instead, she explained what it was like going from agency to agency across both sides of the border: "No one would help me. I was running back and forth and no one would help me."

"(But) I never lost hope. I kept thinking I would get my baby back," said Morales, who has three other children.

Temporarily Assigned to Foster Home

For now, the child is in a temporary foster home and will remain there anywhere from a few weeks to several months while she becomes reacquainted with Morales through visits, which will increase gradually, said Carey, the deputy district attorney who represented the county.

Meanwhile, Ruiz, who filed an appeal late last week, said she is not allowed to see the child--"not even to say goodby."

"I haven't seen her in two weeks and they tell me they're thinking of her best interests," Ruiz said earlier this week. "I'm the only mother she's known for three years and they're not allowing visits? Something is not right."

The little girl was picked up by authorities on April 9. It was the beginning of the end of Morales' search for her daughter.

Morales said Ruiz, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Jorge, 24, of Mexico, got the little girl from Morales' aunt in Mexico without Morales' consent. Morales said she had to track down the Ruiz couple and each time she asked for her baby back, was turned away.

Ruiz, however, said that Morales abandoned the child: "What kind of mother leaves a baby . . . in a foreign country and the first time she comes" back is three months later?

Ruiz said she grew to love the little girl her family renamed Leticia Susana, nicknamed Susie Q., and she questions Morales' sincerity or her ability to be a responsible mother.

Child Taken to Mexico

Morales, a Mexican citizen with U.S. residency who was reared in Los Angeles County, moved to Rosarito Beach in September, 1984, with Haydee Jeanette and Jennifer, her only other daughter at the time. But when she could not find a job, Morales returned to the United States in November, leaving Haydee with a friend.

The friend took the child to a baby sitter who took her to Morales' aunt, who promised the young mother she would take care of the child until Morales could afford to return. Instead, Morales said, the aunt turned the baby over to Mary and Jorge Ruiz. She would later tell Morales she could not afford to keep the baby.

Morales, then 17, ran into hard times as her odyssey to retrieve the baby began. Every time she went back to get her daughter, Ruiz said she either ran into bad luck--such as having a car accident and landing in jail for a month for an auto theft she did not commit--or was turned away by the Ruiz couple, when she could find either one of them. When she received no cooperation from Mexican authorities, Morales said, she knocked on doors and asked people if they had seen "an older white woman . . . with a young Mexican, with a baby girl."

Her Luck Changed

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