Woman Suspected in Baby Kidnapping Befriended Family, Became 'Obsessed'

Brandon Cuellar's family speaks out
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2022 1:45 AM CDT
Woman Suspected in Kidnapping Was 'Obsessed' With Baby: Family
This photo released Monday, April 25, 2022, by the San Jose Police Department shows three-month old Brandon Cuellar.   (San Jose Police Department via AP)

(Newser) – One of the suspects arrested in the kidnapping of 3-month-old Brandon Cuellar met the infant's family at a Bay Area church when Brandon's mom, Carolina Ayala, was nine months pregnant. Family members say Yesenia Ramirez became "obsessed" with the baby once he was born, ABC 7 reports. "She would go to my house a lot, she always wanted to be there," Ayala said of Ramirez in a Spanish-language interview cited by the AP. Prior to Brandon's kidnapping Monday, Ramirez gave the infant and his grandmother, Victoria Mejia, a ride so they could run errands, authorities say, per NBC News. The family says Ramirez encouraged Mejia to take a shopping trip to Walmart to pick up food and baby supplies using Ramirez's grocery vouchers.

Within minutes of their returning home and Mejia taking Brandon inside, a second suspect, Jose Portillo, snatched the baby while Mejia unloaded groceries, the family says. Police say Ramirez had been communicating with him in the moments before the baby was taken, and surveillance footage shows him arriving at the house with a car seat. "These people—a coordinated effort—planned and took baby Brandon," a police sergeant says. "Grandma did the right thing. They went shopping. She took the baby inside before anything. Thought the baby was safe in the apartment. She was not privy—she was not aware of this plan." Police became suspicious of Ramirez when her story changed multiple times during questioning, they say.

Police have not publicly speculated on a motive. Brandon was found unharmed in Portillo's home about 20 hours after he was taken. "I felt like half of my heart had left with him. I felt like I died," Ayala said. When they were reunited, it was like "having my soul return to my body." The third and final person initially arrested in the case, Baldomeo Sandoval, is Ramirez's husband, but he was released without charges Thursday. "Details regarding Sandoval’s involvement with this case have come to light and he will not be facing charges at this time," the San Jose Police Department said in a statement. Members of the church where Ramirez met Brandon's family tell NBC Bay Area Ramirez and Sandoval have a daughter and granddaughter together. (Read more California stories.)

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