Two Children Held by Smugglers Are Back With Mother

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two children who were allegedly kidnaped by alien smugglers have been found unharmed and reunited with their mother, Los Angeles police said Monday.

Nasario Morales, 9, and his 11- year-old sister, Maria--and as many as seven other undocumented aliens--jumped to safety from the second-story window of a house on Trinity Street where they were allegedly being held for ransom Sunday afternoon, Newton Division Detective Dick Heidesch said.

Police were still seeking two men who allegedly kidnaped the Morales children Sunday morning by dragging them into a van at 23rd and Los Angeles streets.

The children's mother, Ernestina Bautista, told officers she had gone to the house to negotiate the $400 smuggling fee she owed the two men.

"They might be in Southern California, and they might be in Mexico by now," Heidesch said of the so-called coyotes.

On Sunday, officers arrested Sandra Preciado, 18, at the Trinity Street house, and Burrciaga Gutierrez, 30, at a house on Vernon Street, where other aliens were being held, on suspicion of kidnaping for ransom, Heidesch said. They were jailed in lieu of $100,000 bail each.

Bautista, a hotel employee who lives in Palm Springs, returned to the resort city by bus with the two children Monday.

Reached at her apartment Monday evening, Bautista said: "I arrived safely and I have my children. I don't want any publicity."

Earlier, Bautista's daughter, Margarita Cruz, 20, who with her 2-year-old son lives with her mother, said Bautista left home last Tuesday for Mexicali, Mex., to arrange to have her two younger children transported to Los Angeles.

The children attend school and live with a family friend in the border city, but with the arrival of summer vacation Bautista wanted the pair with her, Cruz explained.

"I didn't hear from her until Saturday," Cruz said of her mother. "She said she had arrived with my brother and sister. But that was all. . . ."

On Sunday afternoon, Cruz said she received a call from a woman in Los Angeles in whose house the children had sought refuge when they fled the smugglers' house.

"Somebody took them in. They were running up and down the street panic-stricken, asking for help," Police Lt. Ron Code said of the children.

Cruz said she immediately left for Los Angeles, but by the time she arrived, police had found the children and were reuniting them with their mother at the Newton Division police station.

Bautista contacted police after her children were kidnaped and gave them the phone number of the alleged alien smugglers, Heidesch said. That number led officers to the house on Vernon Street, where Gutierrez was found with nine alleged illegal aliens.

Information received at the Vernon Street house led police to the Trinity Street location, but the aliens being held there escaped just before officers arrived, Heidesch said.

"They were running all over the place," the detective said.

Police were able to talk to three of the aliens, in addition to the two children, and they arrested Preciado inside the house, Heidesch said.

"Preciado was taking money for keeping people at her house, and she was making phone calls trying to get money in return for (releasing) them," the detective said.

Police said Bautista is a legal resident of the United States.

Heidesch said police informed Immigration and Naturalization Service officials Sunday that they were interviewing some aliens believed to have been smuggled into the country. But the detainees were freed after officers were told that no one at the agency was available to pick them up.

Police drew heavy criticism last month from immigrant rights groups after they turned over to the INS 27 illegal aliens they had rescued from smugglers. The rights groups said aliens who are crime victims would no longer contact police.

City Councilman Michael Woo has asked the city to consider banning such cooperation between police and immigration authorities. The matter is due to come up in the council's Public Safety Committee today.

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