A 6-month-old boy who authorities suspect may have been abused disappeared Thursday from Children's Hospital of Orange County, where he had been in protective custody, and officials said they think the child's parents may have taken him.
"Our main concern is for the baby's welfare," hospital spokeswoman Melissa Weissbuch said, "because we were not done observing him. The physician had seen him yesterday, but he turned up missing before the physician had seen him today."
Hospital officials said the boy's parents may have taken him after a morning visit, despite a "protective hold" order by the county's Social Services Agency.
The boy's physician, Antonio Arrieta, issued a statement saying that the hospital is working closely with law enforcement officials to get the child back. "Although we believe the child is not in any immediate medical danger," he said, "we urge that the baby be returned to the hospital for further examination."
Police said the boy was taken into protective custody Tuesday and admitted to CHOC in Orange after an aide at a Fullerton day-care center reported finding bruises on the child. The baby's parents, police said, are a 20-year-old man and a 17-year-old woman, both recent immigrants from Mexico who live in Buena Park. Because of the woman's age, The Times is withholding the parents' names.
Art Romo, spokesman for the Orange Police Department, said the child disappeared from CHOC about 11:30 a.m. Thursday, shortly after being seen with his mother. "The boy, along with the parents who were there in the room, was missing from the hospital," Romo said.
The unauthorized removal of a child from protective custody is a felony, Romo said.
Hospital officials, emphasizing that no child-abuse charges have been filed, said the parents had permission to visit their baby. "We have all the appropriate security measures for a hospital," Weissbuch said. "The hospital has tight security--everything was done exactly according to protocol."
As police searched for the parents and child Thursday night, the couple's neighbors on the 7500 block of 10th Street in Buena Park expressed shock over the situation.
"I've seen her handsome little boy," one neighbor said of the teen mother, "and I saw a lot of love. She was very quiet. I never saw any bruises--I respect the police, but in this case it's about a mother who loves her baby."
Lt. Tom Lucenti, a spokesman for the Buena Park police, said that the search for the family continues. "If I had to venture a guess," he said, "I'd say that they're back in Mexico by now."