Two people, including a family friend accused of kidnapping a 3-month-old San Jose boy last month had attempted to take the child at least three times, including an instance in which one suspect posed as a Child Protective Services worker until they eventually succeeded in late April, according to prosecutors.
At a Thursday bail hearing, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office charged Yesenia Ramirez, 43, and Jose Portillo, 28 with three additional charges of attempted kidnapping. They also face charges of conspiracy to commit a felony, kidnapping a child under the age of 14 and first-degree burglary — all felonies — in connection with the boy’s abduction. They remain in jail without bail and face prison if convicted.
The hearing comes as questions swirl about the motivation behind the late-April kidnapping of a 3-month-old boy, who was snatched from his grandmother’s San Jose apartment after a trip to Walmart. The motive remains under investigation, authorities said.
According to investigators, Ramirez and Portillo texted March 14 about a “script” that Portillo would use to say he was a Child Protective Services worker who needed to take the baby from the home because he wasn’t being parented safely. Phone records showed Portillo was in the area of the child’s home between 1 pm and 2:30 pm The child’s family members also said they saw a man come to the home and identify himself as a CPS worker.
However, the family called CPS, who said they hadn’t set anyone over to take the baby and Portillo left after they refused to hand over the child.
On March 28, Portillo and Ramirez painstakingly texted about the baby and sent pictures of the building where he lives with his family, the prosecutors said. They also texted about a plan for Portillo to go into the Walmart on Story Road with a baby carrier in a shopping cart. Ramirez would then take the child there with his grandmother his. Once inside, they would trade shopping carts and Portillo would leave the store with the baby inside the baby carrier.
Prosecutors say Ramirez and Portillo worked together during the successful April abduction — with one of them spending time with the boy’s grandmother while the other swept in to steal the baby, court records show.
It all happened around 1 pm on April 25 after a trip to Walmart on Story Road that Ramirez took with the child’s grandmother and the baby. When they returned home to the 1000 block of Elm Street, the grandmother left the infant in a bedroom while she unloaded groceries from her car. When the grandmother returned, the boy was missing, authorities said.
Authorities later spotted Portillo on a surveillance camera approaching the grandmother’s apartment holding an empty car seat around the time of the abduction. He was seen minutes later walking down the stairs of the apartment complex, holding a car seat covered with a blanket that appeared “physically heavier,” authorities said.
The kidnapping sparked an intense, 18-hour search that garnered national attention as San Jose police fanned out across the city and issued numerous messages to cell phones across the South Bay, pleading for the kidnappers to return the boy.
The infant was found safe the next morning nearly five miles away in an apartment near Mather Drive and North Jackson Avenue. Inside, San Jose police found numerous baby care items, including baby clothing, baby formula, diapers and a car seat, court documents show.
According to the prosecutors, Portillo was on the phone as he walked up to the grandmother’s apartment; Ramirez had made a phone call when she arrived at the home with the baby. Portillo’s contact information was found on Ramirez’s phone and phone data indicated both Portillo and Ramirez were in the area of the Walmart at about 12:20 pm A Nissan Quest, identified by police through security footage, that was spotted fleeing the scene of the kidnapping, was also found to be registered to Ramirez. The same vehicle was found parked in front of Portillo’s apartment on Mather Drive.
A 37-year-old man was initially identified as a third suspect by San Jose police and arrested but was released from custody, with authorities saying that details about his involvement in this case “have come to light” and he won’t be facing charges.
Authorities haven’t openly speculated about why the pair stockpiled the baby supplies. And questions remain about the exact relationship between Ramirez and Portillo.
In an interview, Cody Salfen, an attorney for Ramirez, attributed the baby supplies to the fact that his client and the baby’s family had a “very close relationship,” and that Ramirez was a “caretaker” for the child who had “the full blessing and welcome” of his family.
Questions also remain about the pair’s exact connection to a tiny San Jose church, where a 3-year-old girl died last fall in a ceremony that its pastor claims was meant to “liberate her of her evil spirits.”
The girl, Arely Naomi Proctor, died in September by asphyxiation, and her death has been ruled a homicide by the Santa Clara County coroner’s office. Her mother her, Claudia Hernandez has been arrested and charged with assault on a child resulting in death in connection with the deadly exorcism. She remains in jail and is being held without bail.
While acknowledging that the exorcism happened at the nondescript house where the church holds services, leaders of Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas’s congregation also confirmed that at least one of the kidnapping suspects, Ramirez, attended services there, along with the infant’s mother and grandmother.