Family members traveled from Mexico to Chicago Tuesday as they prepare to meet their youngest relative and say their final goodbyes to his 19-year-old mother Marlen Ochoa.
Ochoa was strangled in Chicago last month before her baby was cut from her womb, authorities said. Now, her infant child remains on life support at Advocate Christ Medical Center as his family awaits a miracle.
Five of Ochoa's extended family members landed in Chicago on temporary visas ahead of the young mother's funeral Saturday. They also hope to help with the child she left behind.
"Every grandma has expressed to me when I spoke to them [Monday] night how they can’t wait to hold this little baby in their arms," said family spokesperson Julie Contreras. "He’s the little piece of miracle they know Marlen fought for."
Although under horrific circumstances, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and an uncle made the journey to the city to be there when Ochoa is laid to rest.
"This is a nightmare," said Contreras. "A horror film for this family."
Ochoa's husband, mother and father currently face a difficult decision about her baby's future. The infant has been on life support for weeks, but the family said he opened his eyes for the first time on Sunday.
"We prayed over baby Jardiel and soon after he opened his eyes," said another family spokesperson Cecilia Garcia. "I thought it was something that happened before but his dad said 'Oh my god, he opened his eyes.' He’d never seen that since he’d visited the baby."
The family as well as representatives met with hospital staff at Advocate Christ Medical Center Monday to discuss the baby’s prognosis, and also to ask for copies of protocols the hospital follows after receiving a baby who was born at home.
The Cook County sheriff’s office is questioning if the hospital violated state law by not immediately reporting that a woman who claimed to be the mother of a newborn had not given birth.
The woman, Clarisa Figueroa, and her daughter, Desiree, have been charged with strangling Ochoa and cutting the newborn from her womb.
At a bail hearing last week, prosecutors explained how the 46-year-old Figueroa was examined in a birthing center at Christ Medical Center on April 23 "but showed no signs consistent with a woman who had just delivered a baby."
A technician at the Oak Lawn hospital cleaned blood from Figueroa’s arms, face and hands, prosecutors said, but it was unclear if anyone verified that she had actually given birth.
Figueroa was allegedly able to pass off the baby as her own for weeks.
It wasn’t until May 9 that a "mandated reporter" — someone required to report suspected neglect or abuse — notified the Department of Child and Family Services about the newborn, DCFS spokesman Jassen Strokosch said. The child was then taken into protective custody.
After a DNA test proved that the baby was actually that of Ochoa's husband, the agency let the 48-hour protective custody lapse, and the baby was turned over to his father, Strokosch said.
On Monday, the sheriff’s office said it will investigate the hospital if it finds the medical center violated the Abuse and Neglected Children Reporting Act. As of Tuesday there was no open investigation, the sheriff's office said.
"We will consult with DCFS and if they determine the facts and circumstances of this tragedy were such that should have been reported by mandated reporters, we will ensure an investigation takes place," sheriff’s office spokeswoman Cara Smith said in an email.
In a statement, DCFS said it "will provide any support needed to the family in this case and to those handling any investigations into this matter."
There is currently no law or regulation to to ensure a baby belongs to the person presenting with the baby at a hospital.
Hospital regulation falls under the purview of The Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Strokosch said.