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Orange County

Straying Girl's Mother Held

Stanton woman, 28, faces charges of child endangerment as three siblings are removed from the home. Man also arrested.

November 23, 2002|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

A day after making tearful pleas for her daughter's return, the mother of an 11-year-old Stanton girl who ran away with a man she met through a chat room was arrested Friday on charges of child endangerment. The man was also arrested, accused of sexually abusing the girl.

Diane Ponce, 28, was being held at the Central Women's Jail in Santa Ana. Her 11-year-old daughter, 5-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son were placed in protective custody at the Orangewood Children's Home, said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino.

"She was part of the problem, and not the solution," Amormino said of Ponce.

Ponce spent 30 days in jail last year on a previous child endangerment charge and was taking parenting classes, authorities said. It was not immediately clear whether the previous arrest involved the same daughter.

The girl was with a 9-year-old friend outside their apartment complex on West 2nd Street in Stanton on Tuesday when a dark sport utility vehicle pulled up.

A witness said she hopped into the passenger seat, leaving voluntarily with the man at the wheel, but not telling anyone where she was going.

Her mother did not report her missing until midnight Wednesday, apparently under the false impression that she had to wait 24 hours.

The Sheriff's Department put more than 60 investigators and uniformed deputies to work looking for the girl.

They found her at a motel about 10 miles from her home about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, about 12 hours after she was spotted with an older man at a Long Beach music store.

Amormino said that Ponce was being held accountable because she waited 28 hours to call authorities and allowed her daughter to repeatedly go on dates with men she met through Internet chat rooms and telephone party lines. Ponce also failed to seek help from social service or law enforcement agencies to help correct the girl's behavior, he said.

"Parents should be responsible," Amormino said. "It's hard to raise a kid. It's always hard to raise a kid. But I would take exception [in this case]. What would happen to you if you were 11 years old? That's what you have to ask yourself."

The man, Alfredo Teran, 20, was arrested by Long Beach police and charged with committing lewd acts on a child, continuous sexual abuse of a child and oral copulation. He was being held on $50,000 bond.

Investigators believe the girl met Teran while on an Internet or telephone chat line about a week ago. Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor and director of the Children's Digital Media Center at UCLA, said Internet chat rooms are creating a wide generation gap because many parents have no idea what their children are being exposed to. These sites are also exposing young girls and boys to discussions about sex, she said.

"It certainly does provide a way for younger girls to meet older men that used to not exist," Greenfield said. "And it's a mode of communication that most adults don't know much about."

"A lot of kids use chat rooms but most parents are quite unaware of what's going on," she added. "It's very difficult to monitor. Kids can find stuff on the Internet that they're not ready for or looking for. It's that kind of thing that's never been an issue before."

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