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

Teresa Carrazco was the Larranagas' next-door neighbor in Mesa. When she and her 15-year-old daughter, Dolores, heard about Desiree's death, they contacted Karla's mother, a personal friend, to tell her what they knew. The Carrazcos say they have never been questioned by police.

Dolores tells New Times that on numerous occasions she heard Desiree Larranaga crying excessively when Raul and Karla were not at home.

"I heard the baby crying like desperately," she says, adding that it was the sound of a child in pain. "I told my mom . . ."

Her mother confirms her daughter's assertion, and says that eventually both of them heard Desiree's cries of pain: on the evening of November 12, 1995--the evening before the child was taken away by paramedics.

The time: about 8 p.m., when the Larranagas were away.

Maria Arredondo sits down in a barber chair at a Mesa salon where she works as a hairdresser. It's a nondescript storefront with a few empty chairs and a drab linoleum floor. Maria is wearing faded gold pants and a purple top, her hair neatly coiffed and a nervous smile on her face.

She's decided to talk to New Times and says that her daughter, Karla Larranaga, was mistaken when she said she wouldn't be interviewed. She has always been willing to talk about the death of Desiree, her granddaughter. She's just never been asked to, not by press, police or CPS investigators.

She's amiable, but while she speaks, she compulsively rubs two squishy hair curlers between her fingers. Before long, she becomes emotional.

"I feel sorry for Karla and Raul because they're so young," she says through an interpreter. "And they have to put up with people saying that Raul hurt the baby.

"When the baby died [at the hospital], I picked it up and handed it to Raul. 'Here's your baby,' I said, and he was crying. He said, 'I'll never see my baby again.'

"Raul is very quiet. He suffers inside."
There was a brief moment, she admits, when she allowed herself to doubt Raul and Karla, her own daughter. That occurred after her sister Lourdes had moved in with her and the two were discussing the tragedy. Lourdes questioned Raul and Karla's inability to resuscitate Desiree. Lourdes went on say that it was a sign of Raul and Karla's general neglect of Desiree--that they didn't care for or love her enough.

Maria says when she heard that, her doubts vanished. She told Lourdes that nobody was as obsessed with her own children the way Lourdes was. In fact, she says, Lourdes' relationship with her 4-year-old daughter Melissa was "sick." (Repeated attempts to contact Lourdes Arredondo by telephone were unsuccessful.)

Melissa was badly spoiled, Maria says, and when they moved in with the Larranagas, Melissa became very upset that her parents showed so much attention to Desiree. Lourdes tried to explain to her daughter that they showed the baby a lot of love because she was so little.

That's when another unhealthy relationship began to develop, Maria says: Melissa's obsession for Desiree. "Melissa would always be around the baby, carry it and jealously guard it.

Maria found that Lourdes would frequently leave Melissa and Desiree alone. Three bruises showed up on Desiree during these periods. "In less than a month [during the period Lourdes and Melissa spent with the Larranagas], a lot of things were happening to that baby," Maria says.

"Melissa would hit the baby," she says, "but I didn't think much about it because Melissa was so small. I didn't think that it could cause internal injuries."

Maria says she finally became alarmed after she entered Lourdes' bedroom to find Melissa jumping on the bed. "The baby was also on it, and the baby's head bounced up and down. There were no pillows around the baby." She says she yelled at Lourdes, telling her that she shouldn't leave Melissa alone with Desiree.

Karla also says that she once found Melissa playing around Lourdes' bed when Desiree was sleeping on it, and she became very upset. But her mother didn't tell her about the jumping incident, nor what the Carrazcos heard, until many months after Desiree's death. Maria says Karla asked her why she didn't tell her about it earlier, and was told, "I didn't want this to get bigger than it was."

At 9 p.m. on the evening before Desiree died, Maria says Lourdes called her in an agitated state to say that something was wrong with Desiree. "'What should I do? Should I take the baby to the doctor?'" Maria says Lourdes asked her. When she asked what was wrong, Lourdes replied that the baby had the flu. But Desiree had had a mild case of flu for more than a day, and Lourdes sounded too upset to be concerned about flu.

(It's important to note that when questioned by Detective Byers about the five hours she watched Desiree that evening, Lourdes said the baby was fine, except for a runny nose. She did not mention calling her sister for help.)

Maria says she urged Lourdes to take the baby to the doctor if it needed attention. Lourdes then told her that she had already talked to the baby's other grandmother--Raul's mother Fulgencia Hanson, who confirms that she called Lourdes about 7 p.m.--and Hanson had told her that Karla had been giving Desiree chamomile tea for her discomfort.

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