PLANADA, Calif. – A California father has been reunited with his 2-month-old son after authorities say the infant was abandoned on a doorstep by a couple who had killed the child's mother to kidnap the boy.
Child Protective Services on Thursday night took the baby to his Planada home in central California, where he was welcomed by his father, Luis DeCeja, and more than a dozen other relatives, the Merced Sun-Star reported.
The boy and his mother, 26-year-old Ana Lila Diaz DeCeja, disappeared from their home on Dec. 2. Authorities said farmworkers found her badly burned body in an almond orchard outside Snelling that same day. The baby was found wrapped in a blanket at a home in nearby Le Grand five days later.
DeCeja held his sleeping son on his lap on Thursday night, while his 5-year-old son sat beside him on the couch.
In an earlier phone interview, he told the Merced Sun-Star that he felt relieved "because these people are going to pay for what they did."
"But the emptiness of my wife is going to be there forever," he said, speaking in Spanish.
Teresa Robles, 33, and Jose Velarde, 37 were arrested on suspicion of murder Wednesday. The husband and wife confessed to luring DeCeja to their home and strangling her, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said.
The couple knew the victim and became better acquainted with her at a health clinic not long before she was murdered, Pazin said.
The husband and wife plotted to steal the baby because they recently suffered a miscarriage over the summer and badly wanted a son, Pazin said. The couple have three other children.
"The suspects used a ruse to lure Ana to their house," Pazin said. "Ana was then attacked by the husband, strangled, then driven dead to an orchard outside Snelling."
The husband attempted to dispose of the evidence by burning her body, Pazin said.
Shortly after she was killed, the couple brought the baby home and introduced him to their three children, ages 13, 11 and 8, as their new baby, "Jose," Pazin said.
But the couple panicked after the media reported on the story and they decided to abandon the baby at a Le Grand home, authorities said.
The suspected couple told their children the baby got sick and had to go to the hospital, and they planned to later tell them the infant had died, Pazin said.
A witness reported that on Dec. 3 a man and woman carrying a baby in a car seat in Merced asked if the witness "wanted to buy a baby," authorities said.
The baby was found on the LeGrand doorstep after a neighbor heard crying and found him wedged between the front door and screen door at 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, according to the sheriff's department.
The boy nearly died from exposure to the cold, authorities said. He was taken to a local hospital and has recovered.
Investigators believed the abandoned baby was the missing boy, but they had to confirm his identity through birth certificate footprints and DNA tests before returning him to his family.
The suspects, who have no criminal history, are being held in Merced County Jail without bail. Their children are in the custody of Child Protective Services.
Information from: Merced Sun-Star, http://www.mercedsun-star.com