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Bail denied for woman charged with tossing 3-year-old nephew into Lake Michigan, despite defense claims of mental illness

Pier.jpeg

A woman has been charged with pushing her 3-year-old nephew into Lake Michigan off Navy Pier, leaving him in “very critical” condition.

Ashlee Rezin | Sun-Times

Three-year-old Josiah Brown was pushed into Lake Michigan by his “beloved aunt” who then stood by as he sunk to the bottom off Navy Pier, where divers would find him a half-hour later, prosecutors said in court Wednesday.

The boy was in cardiac arrest when he was pulled from the water and was rushed to Lurie Children’s Hospital in “very critical condition,” officials said. He is not expected to survive, prosecutors said during a bond hearing for the aunt, Victoria Moreno.

As Moreno appeared in court, the boy’s father was hospitalized at Loyola Medical Center awaiting a heart transplant and has been unable to see his son.

Judge Susana Ortiz denied bail for Moreno, despite defense arguments that she suffers from mental issues. The judge called Moreno’s actions “intentionally brutal and heinous.”

Victoria_Moreno__34.jpg

Victoria Moreno

Chicago police

Her ruling came after a detailed account of Moreno’s actions on the day of the incident Monday. That morning, she slipped out of the family home in Des Plaines with the boy while another aunt went to wake up her kids and his grandmother went to change, according to State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto.

Moreno “stole the keys” to the family’s truck and “snuck out of the residence without anyone knowing that she had left,” Scaduto said.

The other aunt no longer heard the boy talking “and became alarmed,” Scaduto said. That’s when she noticed Moreno and the boy were gone, and the truck was missing.

Moreno wasn’t allowed to drive because she takes medication for “mental health issues” and because of an alarming incident a week earlier when she drove off with several children, prosecutors said.

Moreno initially attempted to take the boy to the Shedd Aquarium but then decided to get him food at Navy Pier. After leaving the restaurant, the boy wandered into a street and was nearly struck by a car coming out of a parking garage, Scaduto said.

Moreno grabbed the child and began walking with him on the sidewalk close to the water. The child crawled under one of the barrier chains and was on all fours, about 3 feet away from the edge and the 6-foot drop to the water.

Moreno took hold of the child’s foot and pulled him back, “apparently because there were several people in the immediate vicinity,” Scaduto said.

“The defendant looked around her multiple times and waited for people to leave, looking around once again, and when no one was present she allowed the 3-year-old child to crawl back under the chain toward the edge of the platform — doing nothing,” Scaduto said.

Moreno then climbed over the chain, straddled the child and pushed him off the platform with both hands, according to prosecutors. She sat down and stared into the water as the boy sunk beneath, Scaduto said.

Seconds later, Moreno walked several feet away and stood on the sidewalk “again doing nothing” while passersby called 911 and threw a life preserver in the water, the prosecutor said.

“Again, the defendant stood by and did not do anything, did not offer to help the child and also claimed she did not have a phone on her to make any calls,” Scaduto said.

“Not once during any of these events did the defendant scream for help, call for help, ask for help or try herself to help,” she said. “When the police arrived, the defendant pretended not to know anything about the child.”

The boy was retrieved from the bottom of the lake about 30 minutes later, around 1 p.m. He suffered from a swollen brain and bleeding in lungs, and has experienced multiple seizures and multiple events of cardiac arrest, Scaduto said.

“It is not likely that he will survive these extensive injuries,” she said, adding that the incident “is a tragedy for this family in every sense.”

Moreno was arrested at the scene and has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery to a child.

Patrick Shine, her public defender, said his client suffers from “severe mental health,” suggesting the attack was precipitated by a psychotic break and was not premeditated.

“I believe that something happened … inside of her,” said Shine. He said that Moreno has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and insomnia and takes medication daily.

“This incident is an anomaly in her background,” he said, adding that she has no criminal history.

He cast the incident a week prior in which Moreno took her young family members to Navy Pier as “a field trip” and claimed her intentions on Monday also started off “innocent.” He said Moreno is married and has lived at the family home in Des Plaines for 14 years.

Her mental health issues are well known among her family, Shine said.

“I don’t think anyone can say what my client was thinking,” he said.

Shine urged Ortiz to deny the prosecution’s request to hold Moreno without bail and instead release her on electronic monitoring so she can get help while she awaits trial. 

Though Ortiz acknowledged Moreno’s struggles with mental illness, she also said that her alleged actions appeared at least partially premeditated.

“I find Ms. Moreno at this time to be a danger to the community — and to her specific family members and children in general,” Ortiz said in denying bail and ordering Moreno to stay away from her family and the witnesses in the case.

Her next court date was set for Sept. 30.

Ashton King and Allison Huston said they were walking along the lakefront that afternoon when they heard a splash and noticed Moreno peering into the water, where the boy was floating on his back. Moreno denied knowing him, Huston said.

“He seemed disoriented, a little out of it [and] scared out of his mind,” King said. “He was just staring up at the sky. His eyes were super, super wide, and he was trying his best to stay afloat.”

King said she immediately dialed 911 as Huston tried to keep the boy “as calm as possible.” By then, he still had his eyes open but was unresponsive, King said.

She then recalled walking past a life preserver, but the boy had already sunk into the water by the time Huston grabbed it.

“I will never forget seeing his face as he slipped under the surface,” Huston said. “It was absolutely horrible.”

Emergency crews arrived a short time later and grabbed him from the water. Moreno had already backed away and “didn’t do anything” while the boy was drowning, King said.

“My friend and I were both like, something is not right with this woman,” King said. “She just seemed off. She seemed like she was under the influence of something, possibly.”

While Moreno initially told police she was merely a witness, the women said they urged officials to question her further based on her strange behavior.

King, who lives in Oak Forest, said the incident “hit me a lot harder” because she’s the mother of three young children.

“It’s just been very, very hard to kind of cope with and wrap my mind around how that could’ve happened,” she said. “And you deal with the guilt of ... how else could I have helped? Or what else could I have done? Or did I do things fast enough?”

The boy’s family lives on a quiet residential block in Des Plaines where family calls him “JoJo,” according to a relative who answered the door of the family’s home Wednesday.

Neighbors said the boy’s father has a medical issue that required him to be taken out by stretchers and ambulances several times over the last few weeks. The father, Dantrell Brown, has posted to social media about his diagnosis of congestive heart failure three years ago at age 22, just days before the birth of Josiah.

Last week, Brown began an online fundraiser seeking help to pay for a heart transplant after he recently suffered medical complications.

“Anything helps,” he wrote. “I hope to get back home to my son and wife soon.”

Most people on the block where Josiah lives are friendly and speak with each other almost daily, but the child’s household stood out as quiet and reserved, neighbors said.

“They keep to themselves,” said one neighbor, who asked not to be named.

“A very close-knit family,” neighbor Nikki Skarbek said. “They have to be devastated.”

Another neighbor said kids at the home often played in the family’s backyard. The family hosted kids’ birthday parties.

“They’re not some bizarre family. Everyone works two jobs,” the neighbor said.

Several neighbors were shocked to hear Victoria Moreno was charged with hurting Josiah. Some said they hadn’t seen her at the home in a decade and were surprised she still lived there. One neighbor recalled Victoria Moreno being escorted from a block party years ago because of overactive behavior.

“Victoria had something going on,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be named. She said she suspected she may have been on drugs at the time.









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