A woman knocked on the door of a home in Southern California and claimed she was with social services, authorities said.
It was late Friday morning, and she was standing face-to-face with a new mother living in the Santa Ana home. Police said the stranger identified herself as “Mayela Ortega,” allegedly telling the mother that she was a social worker sent to take possession of the woman’s week-old baby.
Police said the mother declined but agreed to go with the woman to the social services agency to clear up any misunderstandings, but the woman said no, claiming that there was no extra room in her vehicle. When the mother continued to refuse to release her child, the woman left, vowing to return with sheriff’s deputies, police said.
“I said, ‘Okay, if the sheriff has to come, that’s fine,' ” the mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ABC affiliate KABC. “ 'But I don’t want to give you my kid.’ ”
The woman never returned.
Anthony Bertagna, a spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department, told The Washington Post on Monday that the woman allegedly posed as a social worker to abduct a child from the home. She was booked on a charge of attempted kidnapping after turning herself in to police.
Cases like this are rare, experts say.
David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said kidnapping cases in which women attempt to take newborns from hospital nurseries, for instance, used to be more common before health-care facilities tightened security.
He said that stranger abduction is rare, and it is even more unusual to see a case in which a woman abducts an infant she does not know.
From 1965 to 2019, there have been 140 infant abductions from health-care facilities, 140 from homes and 47 from other locations, according to data from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. In 13 cases, the alleged abductor impersonated a social worker, according to the data.
Finkelhor said parents’ instincts are usually correct — don’t leave a child unattended, don’t leave a child in the care of a stranger, and don’t hand a child over to someone who lacks appropriate credentials. But in reiterating how seldom such cases occur, he said, “I think it’s important for parents not to develop anxiety.”
Bertagna did not release the woman’s name, but booking records from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department list Mayela Ortega.
Bertagna said investigators are working with the Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County sheriff’s departments on two cases that might be related, but he did not comment further.