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Parents Face Questions : Identity of Abandoned Mute Girl Discovered

Times Staff Writer

A mute 11-year-old girl who was apparently abandoned in a La Jolla department store two weeks ago has been identified, police said Thursday.

The girl’s name is being withheld until her parents, who live in Orange County, can be questioned by police.

Former Teacher Was Key

The break came when a former teacher of the girl was in San Diego for a seminar and recognized her from a television report, police spokesman Bill Robinson said. The teacher, who was not identified, told police the girl’s name, her parents’ names and where she attended school.

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San Diego’s child-abuse detectives believe they know where the girl’s parents are, but they had not been located as of Thursday night, Robinson said. Police are concerned about two other siblings who are believed to still live in the family home, Robinson said.

Meanwhile, the police and the district attorney’s office are discussing whether to file criminal charges against the parents, Robinson said. No decision will be reached until the girl’s parents have been interviewed.

The child was discovered wandering alone in the May Co. store at La Jolla Village Square the evening of Sept. 14. Mute, and originally believed to be deaf, the girl scrawled the name Tanya Anderson on a piece of paper. She apparently does have some hearing, however, and does respond to the name Tanya, according to her court-appointed attorney, Anna Espana.

The girl has been temporarily placed with foster parents who specialize in working with children who have special needs, said Yolanda Thomas of the county Social Services Department.

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‘Doing Very, Very Well’

“She’s in a wonderful foster home, and she’s doing very, very well,” Thomas said. The child has been diagnosed as developmentally delayed and is unable to speak.

On Wednesday, the girl was made a dependent of Juvenile Court.

“Now, it’s not going to be easy for the parents just to come and take her home,” Thomas said.

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Espana, who was appointed to the case because she is fluent in sign language, said Thursday she believes the child is not deaf.

Espana said she saw a scene in a courthouse restroom where the foster mother called out to the girl, “Tanya, close the door,” and the girl obeyed.

However, the child does have an obvious hearing impairment, Espana said, because, in one ear, the girl has a tube that appears to have been surgically implanted.

When she was found, the girl’s other ear was filled with blood, and it was discovered that she had a perforated eardrum.

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Espana said she believes the girl did not know any sign language but may have picked up some from her foster family.

Boasts a Ready Smile

“She doesn’t talk, but she loves to smile and she loves to hug you,” Espana said. “When I was leaving the courthouse, she tried to say ‘Bye.’ . . . She made a sound, but it was a real effort.”

The girl will only live with the foster family temporarily.

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“It is not likely that they will adopt her,” Thomas said.

She may be put up for adoption later, depending on whether criminal charges are filed against the parents and whether reunification of the family appears to be a viable alternative.

“We try to work with the family to try to reunite them and try to work out the problems they may be having,” Thomas said. “Only if it doesn’t work do we terminate parental rights.

“Sometimes, people get under terrible stress and just feel desperate, and abandon a child. But there are a lot of other options, and if people call our hot line, we can help them.”

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