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Search Finds Child's Body; 2 More Sought in S.F. Bay

October 20, 2005|Lee Romney and Monte Morin | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Authorities recovered the body of one child from chilly San Francisco Bay and searched for two more Wednesday night after a witness said a woman tossed them into the water from a popular tourist spot.

The search began about 5:30 p.m. near Pier 7 of the Embarcadero area after a man called 911 to say the young children were thrown naked into the water. Police took a woman they believed to be the mother into custody and were questioning her Wednesday night, according to San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman Maria Oropeza.

By 10:30 p.m. crews had recovered at least one body from an area near the St. Francis Yacht Club, authorities said. The body, which crews had wrapped in yellow plastic for transport, had not been identified.

It was unclear whether two or three children were involved, but Oropeza said police believed they were searching for three. The Coast Guard reported that their ages were 1, 3 and 6 years.

The search continued into the late evening Wednesday as Coast Guard helicopters scanned the bay with spotlights and San Francisco police and Fire Department patrol boats cruised the shoreline under a bright moon. A small pile of what appeared to be clothing lay at the edge of the pier.

The search did not involve divers because a powerful ebb tide and currents would have made it too dangerous, officials said.

After four hours of searching, authorities began to fear the worst.

"Because of the nature of the injuries, the possible fatalities, at this time this case is now assigned to our homicide unit," San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong told reporters at the scene. Fong also requested that anyone who may have seen a woman with a stroller in the area call police.

Within hours of that request, a woman arrived at the scene to talk with police. She told reporters that she had recognized the stroller, that her cousin had three children the same ages and had said she was going to San Francisco. The woman said her cousin was suffering from mental illness and had been having troubles at home. "She loved her kids, but she was going through a lot," the woman said.

Police late Wednesday, however, had not identified the woman they had in custody.

The search began in the shadow of downtown San Francisco, just north of the Bay Bridge. The pier area, which is close to the historic Ferry Building, is popular with tourists.

Petty Officer Brian Leshak, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said two 25-foot rescue boats were participating in the search and were making passes between the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

The water temperature was 54 degrees, he said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom came to the scene to get briefed by authorities and would tell reporters only: "I'm sick to my stomach," before leaving.


Romney reported from San Francisco and Morin from Los Angeles. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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