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Brea couple fight for relationship with grandson

Their son, the boy's father, was killed by an in-law in 2006. Then the boy's mother moved with him to Chicago, leaving the grandparents to fight from afar to maintain a bond.

February 04, 2010|By Joe Mozingo
  • First Irene and Gilbert Reyes lost their son Alex, murdered by his wife's grandmother in Lake Forest in 2006. Then they had to fight to see Alex's only son, Drew.
First Irene and Gilbert Reyes lost their son Alex, murdered by his wife's… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

The silence of their home in Brea was crushing after their son's death. Gilbert and Irene Reyes moved about inertly, hearing only echoes. They took their turns in Alex's room. They buried their noses in his shirts, looked through his checkbook, clasped the "Toy Story" doll he'd bought for his baby son, Drew.

Their only fragment of joy came on weekends, when they picked up Drew from his mother. The 21-month-old teetered around their living room on his bowlegs, shrieking in amusement, brimming with things to say and no way to say them.

He had his father's sly laugh, chin tucked in, cuspids peeking out from his upper lip. The one word Drew knew was "Dada." His grandparents teared up whenever he said it.

So much had been taken.

They would not let Drew be taken too.

Grandparents' ordeal:
A caption accompanying an article in Friday's Section A about the struggles of Gilbert and Irene Reyes to visit with the child of their slain son, Alex, said that their son was killed by his wife's grandfather. He was killed by his wife's grandmother.


Of their four sons, Irene had a singular bond with Alex. They had been through so much together.

When she and Gilbert first married, they bought a little postwar home on a T-intersection in South Whittier. One night, with Alex in her womb, Irene was lying on the floor of the living room watching TV. Gilbert had fallen asleep beside her. She heard a car coming fast down the street that ended at their home and ran to the picture window.

"Gilbert!" she screamed, as the rectangular grille of the station wagon hurtled up their lawn.

Irene went in and out of consciousness in the dark under a collapsed wall. She heard a voice telling her to stay awake. She knew it was God. Then she felt hands on her, trying to get a pulse.

She and the baby would survive. Gilbert would too, with a broken pelvis and internal bleeding that required a 10-day stay in the intensive care unit.

The driver, a drunk 17-year-old girl, had rolled right over him. Irene prayed that the baby was OK.

Alex was born with only minor complications. But he would be plagued by health problems.

He almost died of a 106-degree fever brought on by pneumonia at 9 months old and suffered seizures throughout his youth. Sometimes he'd start convulsing in the bath or while eating. His medications left him dazed. Alex had to stay in special education throughout grade school, and Irene was focused on protecting him.

By junior high, the seizures had stopped and Alex was in regular classes. He was an easygoing, exultant child. Having spent so much time with his mom, he related more to adults than other adolescents.

"Teachers loved him," Irene said. "Even the neighbors -- he'd be out washing the car and say, 'Would you like me to wash your car too?' "

When he graduated, he told his parents he wanted to be a police officer.

Gilbert -- who worked in the scraped-knuckle culture of a machine shop -- welcomed the idea. Irene did not. "Absolutely not, too dangerous," she said.

Alex worked customer service jobs. At an insurance company in Orange, his boss told him he should meet her daughter, Leslie. They went on a boat cruise and started dating. She was his first girlfriend.

Alex still dreamed of being a cop. "I can't stand it anymore," he told his mom. "I want to go to the police academy. It's in me."

He went to the Fullerton College police academy at age 22, in 2002. When he graduated, he applied to police departments across the state and had three interviews but never got called back.

Irene suspects they could tell he was not streetwise.

The next year Leslie became pregnant and the couple decided to get married.

Leslie was living with her grandmother, Jeane Ellen Allen, in Lake Forest. They'd bought the house together when Leslie's mother died of lung disease.

Allen did not like Alex and was possessive of Leslie, constantly calling to see where she was. On their wedding day, Allen tried to talk the pastor out of marrying the couple. She said Alex had no future and denigrated him for being "Mexican."

And the Reyeses had concerns about Leslie: She seemed withdrawn, strangely disconnected.

Alex and Leslie nonetheless got married that day in January 2004. Alex moved in with her and Allen, and Leslie gave birth to Drew in June.

Alex jumped headlong into being a dad and couldn't wait to see his son's personality emerge.

But the grandmother's behavior became increasingly hateful and bizarre. She told Alex that men should not change a baby's diapers. Another time, when he was holding Drew on his lap, she barked at him that the baby was too close to his "privates."

Their pastor advised the couple to move out to save the marriage.

In September, Alex got home from work one day, and Leslie and the baby were gone. He later told his parents that Allen had confronted him. "She's divorcing you," she said. "You're molesting the baby . . . You're never going to see him again."

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