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She's 13, He's 20; Is It Love or Is It Abuse?

September 01, 1996|MATT LAIT and LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

She told Pineda the same when he came to visit the family and expressed his love for Gomez.

But the pregnancy changed the mother's thinking. Gomez, who had left home to live with Pineda, had taken a home pregnancy test but kept the results to herself. Her mother found out only after she got a call from Gomez's middle school when the girl visited the school nurse and reported morning sickness.

"Juan said he would be responsible for her," Trujillo said.

But the decision was not theirs to make. School officials notified social workers, who interviewed the girl's mother and learned she was living with Pineda.

Accompanied by police, the social worker went to Pineda's apartment to investigate. Pineda admitted to them that he had been having sex with Gomez and that the baby she was carrying was his. He also told them that he knew what he was doing was wrong under the law, according to the social worker's report on the case.

Believing that the girl was in an unhealthy situation, the social worker wanted to have her removed from Pineda's home, forcibly if necessary. But officers at the scene were "reluctant to bring the child into protective custody" because she was being provided for by Pineda, and he was assuming responsibility for the unborn child, the social worker's report states.

The police officer was quoted in the report as saying that "the minor was not at risk and that the minor was with her boyfriend voluntarily and that sex was consensual between the minor and the boyfriend."

Police officials did not return phone calls for comment.

Gomez was nonetheless taken into custody by the social workers and placed temporarily in Orangewood. Police declined to arrest Pineda or refer the case to the district attorney's office for possible prosecution on the child abuse charges, according the social worker's report.

Pineda said social workers still threatened him with arrest.

"I told them that I loved her, that I would take care of her," Pineda said shyly in a recent interview. "We have a good life now. I just don't want any more problems. I just want to be with her, and to work."

Trujillo said her daughter was interviewed by a number of social workers during her short stay at Orangewood.

"They said, 'If your boyfriend will marry you voluntarily, then it will be OK,' " she said. "He got married voluntarily. Nobody forced him."

Pineda's six cousins are all pregnant, as are his aunt and his mother, so there is plenty of talk about babies in Gomez's life. One cousin married at 14 and gave birth at 15.

"They don't try to scare me, they just try to help me," Gomez, who is due in January, said of her new in-laws. "One of his cousins just had her baby and I ask her questions, because she's young like me. She said it wouldn't hurt that bad."

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