Killing Jimena

Did County inaction help murder a five-year-old girl?

A week later, SSA child-abuse workers who had been alerted by police visited Jimena, but uncovered no fresh physical evidence of abuse. According to the agency's report of that visit, Jimena told a social worker that she "hit her face a few days ago because she was jumping," repeating her mother's story that Jimena injured herself because she was hyperactive.

"Jimena has been diagnosed with hyperactive behavior due to complications during childbirth," the report says, adding that she had "displayed hyperactive behavior" during the visit. SSA took no further action, and Jimena and her younger sister, Sabrina, remained with her mother.

"She wasn't hyperactive, that's a lie," Orozco said. "She was active, like a normal child. She liked to play and was a happy girl. She acted just like my other daughter, Sabrina, does now, and Sabrina's not hyperactive either. Jimena was a normal child, but what she had were not normal injuries."

On Aug. 11, Orozco took Jimena to Anita Jo Rice, an Anaheim therapist. In her arms, Jimena held a doll that Orozco had given her a day earlier for her birthday. "She had a cute little dress on and her hair was all done up," Rice later said in a deposition. "She looked like a little energetic doll. She held a doll in her arms. Very cute, vivacious little girl. Very bright."

During the therapy session, Jimena told Rice that her mother had thrown a television remote control at her head, and that she had to get stitches. "She told me that her mother and Ricardo hit her a lot," Rice stated. "And that Ricardo hit her with his sandal and belt. And she told me that her mother slaps her face a lot."

"I . . . asked her if there was anything else," Rice continued. "And she told me that her second daddy, Ricardo, had put his finger in one of her holes. And that when she tried to tell her mother that, Ricardo put his hand over her mouth." Rice asked Jimena to point on the doll where her "second daddy" had touched her. "She turned the doll upside down and pointed approximately to the area of the vagina," Rice said.

When Jimena told Rice she had been sexually abused, Orozco says he almost lost his mind. "I was beside myself," he said. "I started crying. I felt angry, impotent, emotionally distraught."

SSA records show Rice immediately called the county's child-abuse hotline, reporting that Jimena had said Morentes "had put his finger inside of her vagina and that it hurt."

That day, social services workers went to Correal's apartment to investigate. But when Correal told them Morentes had accidentally rubbed Jimena's vagina while drying her off with a towel, and that he was no longer living with her, the SSA closed its file on Jimena.

"Case is closed—inconclusive," wrote SSA social worker Providencia Ramirez-Hull, who is also named in Orozco's suit. "However . . . Jimena was touched in a not so kind manner. Also mom was a concern. Jimena was touched by Ricardo. He used a rag to clean this minor [sic] vaginal area. Minor suffered an irritation . . . By observing Jimena with the doll appears [sic] that other problems are happening that they was [sic] not been disclosed. However, appears that minor's father is observing and trying to protect this child. Case closed."

The following day, on Aug. 12, Orozco took his daughter to a birthday party in Anaheim. He snapped a photograph of her—the one that accompanies this story. It was the last day he ever saw her alive. Correal failed to meet him at the store several days later to pick up her child-support check. In fact, she had moved. SSA records show she called child-abuse workers on Aug. 28 to provide a new telephone number and address where she could be reached for the next four days.

"[Correal] said that as soon she find [sic] another place she will get in touch," Ramirez-Hull wrote in a report. "Plan is for Claudia to call this [social worker] as soon she [sic] moved to an [sic] stable place."

Ramirez-Hull made no mention in her report of any further effort to investigate Jimena's welfare.

When Orozco discovered that Correal had disappeared, he and Rice went to Placentia police, hoping to file a missing person's report on Jimena. Police refused to cooperate.

"I informed them of the ongoing child-abuse report," Rice said. "They said . . . that a mother could take her kids any place she wanted to." According to Rice, police "refused to investigate at all. They were very rude."

Rice tried twice to contact Ramirez-Hull. When that failed, she spoke to an SSA supervisor.

"I was concerned that this was a case that was going to fall through the cracks," Rice said. "I felt that Jimena was at extreme risk with the people that she was with. I conveyed that they disappeared. And the supervisor intimated that they might be . . . might be in a shelter of some kind. I took that to mean that Social Services knew where she was."

Rice was mistaken: the agency had lost contact with Correal—and Jimena. When SSA social worker Ann Ballenger typed up the agency's last report on Jimena on Oct. 5, she stated that Correal "called in early September and left a voice mail message indicating she had a new address but did not provide it. Repeated attempts to locate mother have failed. Therefore, at this time this referral will be closed and no further services provided due to loss of contact."

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