A woman suspected of abandoning her mute 11-year-old daughter in a La Jolla department store was arrested in Torrance, police reported Sunday.
Karen Amy May, 37, was taken into custody at about 7 p.m. Saturday at her sister-in-law's house and was later booked into jail in San Diego on suspicion of child abuse and other related offenses.
May had apparently been living a "life on the run" since the break-up of her marriage about a year ago, said Detective Dan Dennis of the San Diego Police Department. She is believed to have fled from her husband in Arizona, taking their two children, and had spent the last several months moving from place to place in Southern California in an attempt to conceal their whereabouts from her estranged husband.
Tipped Off by Relative
May's arrest was the result of a tip from her sister-in-law, whose identity was not disclosed. The sister-in-law contacted a San Diego police detective Saturday to say the mother of the abandoned child was at her house, said San Diego police spokesman Bill Robinson. May was found at the house with her 7-year-old son, Floyd, who was later released to the custody of an aunt in Huntington Beach, Robinson said.
May was driven from Torrance to San Diego Sunday morning and was booked at Las Colinas Jail for women on suspicion of felony child abuse, child abandonment and failure to provide for a child, said a jail spokeswoman. Bail for May was set at $20,000, pending her arraignment Tuesday.
Her 11-year-old daughter has been positively identified as Tanya Tegerdine, Robinson said. The girl, who was found wandering in the May Co. store in La Jolla Village Square shopping center on Sept. 14, is living with a foster family in San Diego. Tanya was declared a dependent of the Juvenile Court last week, and appears to be quite happy with her foster family, said Yolanda Thomas of the county Social Services Department.
Child abuse investigators have not yet determined a motive for the apparent abandonment of the mute child, Robinson said. A preliminary investigation, however, indicates that May became estranged from her husband, who lives in Camp Verde, Ariz., and fled to California with the children. May and the children are believed to have lived at a number of addresses in southern California over the past six months, most recently in an apartment in the 1700 block of Ball Road in Anaheim, Robinson said.
Police believe that both children were kept secluded indoors and not allowed to have any contact with the outside world while the family was moving around, and they were not enrolled in any schools during that time, Robinson said. May reportedly feared that her husband would attempt to take the children from her if their whereabouts were known, Robinson said.
At a press conference Sunday, Detective Dennis said he believed May was "basically at wit's end" when she apparently abandoned her daughter.
"She's gone through an extreme amount of stress in the last year, moving from city to city," Dennis said.
On Saturday, May arranged to leave her son with her sister-in-law in Torrance, so her estranged husband could visit the child, according to Robinson. But the sister-in-law had seen a newspaper article about the abandoned girl, and notified Dennis in San Diego, Robinson said. Dennis in turn contacted Torrance police and asked them to detain May, he said.
May told police she was an artist and a part-time truck driver, but that information has not yet been verified, Robinson said.
San Diego police intend to serve a search warrant today on the Ball Road apartment where the family is believed to have lived most recently. Detectives also plan to talk with the father of the mute girl and with other relatives, he said.
In addition, employees of the May Co. store where the girl was found will be asked to view a line-up, in hopes of identifying May as the woman who was last seen with Tanya.