Taken Baby Syndrome

Raul and Karla Larranaga's baby Desiree died under mysterious circumstances a year ago. Now Child Protective Services has taken their newborn daughter, Sophia, away from them. But witnesses who neither the police nor CPS interviewed tell New Times they su

Desiree's bruises faded, and the baby seemed to thrive. But Karla says she then noticed that the baby seemed to be experiencing discomfort. The doctor had given her medicine to clear up the baby's frequent, but minor problems with congestion--Karla wondered if the medicine was giving the baby headaches.

On Sunday, November 12, 1995, Karla arose at noon and woke up Desiree. She took the baby with her to prepare food while Raul slept. He got up two hours later, and the entire household--all six persons--were together until 5 p.m. That's when Raul and Karla left for another night of cleaning offices.

Karla says she hated leaving the baby with anyone--the previous night she'd taken Desiree with her and sat in an office lobby while Raul worked.

They returned home at 10:30 p.m. Karla says she went directly to Lourdes' bedroom where Desiree was sleeping on the bed. Karla put the baby into her crib in the Larranagas' bedroom without waking her. Then Karla went to the kitchen and cooked while Raul read at the kitchen table. After eating, the Larranagas retired to their room and watched television. They say the baby woke up about 1 a.m. in a talkative mood, so they took her out of the crib and played with her. She cried briefly but wouldn't take medicine or food, so Karla gave her some chamomile tea--which Raul's mother had recommended for colic--and then put her back to sleep.

Then the Larranagas played a game of Battleship.
It was just something they did, they told investigators. They liked to play board games and they liked to read. After the game, about 2 a.m., they each settled down with books. Karla says she drifted off about 3 a.m., but reawakened enough to sense that Raul had turned off the light and crawled over her to his side of the bed, which was against the wall.

Raul told investigators he fell asleep about 4 a.m.
At approximately 5:30, Raul says he was awakened by a gurgling sound coming from Desiree.

It was not an unfamiliar sound, he says. The baby had had some trouble with congestion--nothing to worry about, the baby's doctor had assured them--and the Larranagas were used to hearing the gurgling followed by a resumption of the baby's normal breathing.

But this time, Raul says, the gurgling was followed by silence.
It unnerved him. He crawled over Karla, waking her, and checked on the baby. "I touched her and she was cold and limp. I told Karla something was wrong with the baby and told her to call 911," he says.

Karla says she dashed out of the room, slamming open the door loudly on her way out.

Raul performed CPR, but he knows now that he was doing it incorrectly. "I was rusty at that point," he says. "I didn't really know how to do CPR." He tried to remember: how many breaths and then how many compressions with two fingers on the sternum?

Karla returned to the bedroom in a panic, saying she hadn't been able to get through to a 911 operator. She noticed then that the baby seemed to have a red discoloration under the chin.

Raul says he yelled to try the phone again. This time Karla got through, telling the 911 operator that Desiree wasn't breathing and that she had blood on her chin. The operator told her to bring the baby close to the phone to make sure Raul was doing CPR correctly. She yelled to Raul, who ran into the living room with the baby.

He set her on the couch, and Karla held the receiver to his ear as he continued to work on the baby.

Meanwhile, Lourdes and her husband--awakened by the commotion--were across the room, watching.

And that is the scene law enforcement officers described in their reports: Raul working on the baby, Karla hysterical on the telephone, Lourdes and her husband across the room.

"My first observation was that [Desiree] was clean and appeared well cared for as far as her hygiene," wrote Mesa police officer Neil Terp, the first one to arrive. "I could not see any evidence of marks of any kind on her. Her skin appeared to me to be flawless other than her pale white appearance."

Later, Terp notes, "While paramedics were treating Desiree, they were opening her mouth to put a tube down her throat. I noticed that when they opened her mouth, I could see saliva on the left side of her mouth that looked like it had a red substance mixed with it. I could not tell if it was blood. I did not notice anything on her face prior to paramedics treating her."

Another Mesa officer, Anthony Boyle, also noticed the substance: "There was a very light red-colored stain on the infant's chin, running from just under the mouth to the bottom portion of the chin on the underside of the neck. The stain appeared to be blood possibly mixed with saliva or vomit."

The third officer to respond, M. Robert Reyes, wrote, "Infant was white/pale in color, and I could see red, what appeared to be fluid, on the infant's left jaw/lip area."

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