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Name of Mute Girl Found at Mall Remains Mystery; Child Called Alert, Happy

Times Staff Writer

The county Department of Social Services is looking for leads in the case of a mute child found at a La Jolla department store more than two weeks ago.

The girl, discovered about 7 p.m. Sept. 14 at the La Jolla Village Square May Co. by a store employee, is believed to be 9 to 12 years old, is 4 feet, 8 inches tall and has blue eyes and blond hair.

“It is important that we find the child’s parents because we need to know what her problems are,” said John Anderson, a social services emergency response supervisor. “She seems to have developmental delays, and we need to address those as soon as we are certain of the extent of the delays.”

Seen With Woman

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Yolanda Thomas, social services spokeswoman, said a store worker reported seeing the girl with a woman whose features closely resembled the girl’s in the children’s department of the store shortly before 7 p.m. Store security was notified a short time later, and the store and mall were searched for about 2 1/2 hours before city police took the child to the Hillcrest Receiving Home, an emergency shelter for abused or neglected children, Thomas said.

“She was in the children’s department of the store waiting patiently for her caretaker to return,” said Thomas, who was visibly shaken by the thought of someone abandoning a mute child.

While at Hillcrest, the child’s social worker, Sharon Herman, said the girl illegibly scribbled what appeared to be the name Tanya Anderson on a sheet of paper.

“She wrote the letters T, A, and two inverted N’s,” Herman said. It remains uncertain whether the child had help with the last name, and she hasn’t written the name for Herman or her foster parents since.

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Thomas said the girl does not recognize sign language, responds to the name Tanya and is very affectionate. “She probably would respond to any other name, too,” Thomas added.

At a press conference Tuesday, the girl appeared alert and cheerful. She smiled off and on while playing with small dolls as social services officials talked with the press. However, she did not respond to Tanya when called by a reporter. When asked, “Where’s Tanya?” she simply pointed to one of the dolls.

At the time of her apparent abandonment, the girl was wearing a blue-and-white striped jumpsuit, white tennis shoes, a pink sweater and tiny turtle-shaped earrings. She is now staying in a foster home experienced in dealing with children with special needs, Thomas said.

“We have practically exhausted all means of identifying this little girl,” Anderson said. “We’ve tried to identify her through county medical records, since she has had a cleft palate corrected and that would be listed with the regional center (a state program for developmentally delayed children).

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“We’re going to check all possible leads within the county, but we will begin checking with area counties, state agencies and then national agencies if the parents aren’t located soon. There is a possibility that she was abandoned by someone from another county.”

Court Hearing Scheduled

A Juvenile Court hearing is scheduled for today, to make the girl a dependent of the state, Anderson said, adding that the search for her parents will continue for about a year before the girl is eligible to be placed for adoption.

“We hate to assume anything because we really don’t know what happened and why the girl was left,” Thomas said. “If any wrongdoing is found, then it would be up to the police to decide what punishment would occur.”

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Harry Elias said a person found guilty of child abandonment could face one to six years in prison, as well as a fine of $5,000.

People having any information about the child or her parents or guardians are asked to call the social service hot line at 560-2191.


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