A babysitter kidnapped a one-year-old Fort Worth boy and fled to Arkansas where she told her estranged boyfriend that the child was theirs and she wanted to "live together as a family," according to court documents.
Wendy Hernandez, 35, pleaded guilty in federal court to kidnapping the boy.
The bizarre saga, which has not been previously reported, took place in April.
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Hernandez had babysat for the boy, Jeremias Portillo, once or twice a week for several months and had built up trust with his parents, according to the boy's mother, Ana Lilian Escobar.
"We considered her a part of our family," Escobar said in Spanish.
On April 29, Hernandez asked if she could take the child to Plano to visit her aunt, and Escobar agreed.
But instead of returning that afternoon as planned, Hernandez called to say that strong thunderstorms rolling through the area would make driving dangerous. She promised to return in the morning.
The mother said she felt uneasy about her son being away from home for the night but went along with the plan.
"The next morning she was going to return, but in fact, she didn't return," Escobar said.
That's when Hernandez stopped answering her phone and responding to text messages.
"In that moment, honestly, I was thinking the worst," Escobar said.
She and her husband contacted police.
Detectives with the Fort Worth Police Major Case unit tracked down the "aunt" in Plano.
She said she wasn't really Hernandez's aunt but was a lifelong friend. She said that Hernandez had not visited her house and also revealed that Hernandez had asked her to hide her "true whereabouts," according to Hernandez's arrest warrant.
Police learned that Hernandez and the child were in North Little Rock — with the woman's ex-boyfriend.
Officers in Arkansas rescued the boy and arrested Hernandez.
Detectives interviewed the boyfriend who said he "truly believed" the boy was his son, the warrant said.
"When he and Hernandez separated, she told him she was pregnant with his child," the investigator wrote in the warrant. "They continued to communicate, and she would frequently update him on the progress of her pregnancy.
"(The boyfriend) stated that it was his and Hernandez's intention to live together as a family so that he could have a relationship with his son," the agent said.
The boyfriend was not arrested.
Three days after he disappeared, Jeremias was reunited with his parents.
"It was the happiest day of my life," his mother said.
Hernandez is scheduled to be sentenced in February by U.S. District Judge Terry Means.
Her possible punishment of up to life in prison may be reduced, because prosecutors filed a document saying she has accepted responsibility for her crime and has been cooperative with the investigation.
But her future remains unclear for another reason.
Court documents suggest she may be an undocumented immigrant.
Her signed confession, known as a factual resume, included a warning from prosecutors.
"The defendant recognizes that pleading guilty may have consequences with respect to her immigration status if she is not a citizen of the United States, including removal from the United States," it said.
Undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes typically serve their prison time before being deported.