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Mother Left Kids Before, Officials Believe

Authorities think Placentia children survived 19 days alone because they'd been on their own in the past. New charges possible.

January 11, 2003|Mai Tran and Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writers

An Orange County judge on Friday ordered two Placentia children allegedly abandoned by their mother for nearly three weeks to remain in protective custody as officials investigate reports that the 31-year-old woman had left her daughter and son alone on at least one other occasion.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Schatzle said she may file additional charges against Janet Chen, 31, because of a separate incident. She said the investigation was incomplete and she could not discuss details.

Investigators believe the children survived 19 days of isolation in part because they had been left alone before.

Linda Hewitt, an Orange County public defender representing Chen, could not be reached for comment. Attempts to interview Chen at the Orange County Jail were also unsuccessful.

Chen and her children, a girl, 7, and a boy, 4, appeared at a hearing at the Lamareaux Justice Center in Orange on Friday morning. Juvenile Court Judge Richard E. Behn rejected a request to open the hearing to the public, and court officials declined to detail what occurred.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 12, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 130 words Type of Material: Correction
Children alone -- Friday's Section A article and headlines about a Placentia woman who authorities said left her two young children alone while she took a trip to North Carolina incorrectly related the timeline. According to police, Janet Chen left the children Dec. 18, not two days before Christmas, as the article said. And the children allegedly were alone for 19 days, not the two weeks mentioned in the headline.

Chen was returned to Orange County Jail, where she is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail on child-endangerment and neglect charges.

Social workers were trying to determine whether they could place the children with relatives instead of a foster family.

"It's too soon to know," said Debbie Kroner, spokeswoman for the Children and Family Services department, who said such efforts usually take several days.

The daughter's father is Sergio Sanchez of Compton; his sister said he is in Mexico.

The son's father is Yao-Nan Duan, who married Chen three years ago, a year after the boy was born.

Chen's neighbors said Duan told them he had recently returned to Southern California after three months in China, and was going through Immigration and Naturalization hearings.

INS officials could not say immediately what those hearings were about.

Authorities accuse Chen of leaving her two children home alone when she left Dec. 18 on a trip to North Carolina to see a man she met over the Internet.

The relationship soured on New Year's Eve and she stayed on, sleeping in her rental car, until her scheduled return flight to California on Tuesday, authorities said.

Before she left Orange County, Chen had brought in what she thought was a three-week supply of frozen food, and gave her children detailed instructions on how to care for themselves and stay out of sight until she returned.

Neighbors, though, became suspicious on Monday, leading police to discover the children.

The food had run out earlier that day, officials said.

Chen returned Tuesday and was arrested after she discovered her children missing from the apartment and called police.

Few details are known about Chen's life. Authorities said she was born in Taiwan and was estranged from her large immigrant family.

Officials at Genes Industry Inc., a Placentia window-coverings business, declined to discuss Chen, who worked there as an office assistant.

Neighbors have described Chen as quiet and reserved, keeping her children under wraps and rarely socializing in the apartment complex.

At one point, authorities said, Chen had her daughter practice penmanship by hand-copying six pages a day from the children's book, "Charlotte's Web."

*

Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this report.

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