Aunt accused of throwing 3-year-old boy into water off Navy Pier. ‘Not once did [she] scream for help, call for help, ask for help.’
Victoria Moreno, 34, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery to a child, according to police. She appeared in court Wednesday.
As her 3-year-old nephew crawled near the edge of Navy Pier, Victoria Moreno looked around to see if anyone was watching, bent down, scooped the boy with both hands and threw him into the water, prosecutors charged Wednesday.
Moreno then sat down and stared as the child sank beneath the surface, prosecutors said in a court statement that brought observers to tears.
“Not once during any of these events did the defendant scream for help, call for help, ask for help or try herself to help,” Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto said during Moreno’s bond hearing. “When the police arrived, the defendant pretended not to know anything about the child.”
It was 30 minutes before divers found the boy at the bottom of the lake, and he was in cardiac arrest when they pulled him from the water Monday afternoon. Paramedics revived him and brought the boy to Lurie Children’s Hospital, but Scaduto said the boy is not expected to survive.
The child’s father has been unable to see his son because he is hospitalized at Loyola Medical Center, awaiting a heart transplant, according to the family.
Judge Susanna Ortiz denied bail for Moreno, 34, despite defense arguments that she suffers from mental issues and may have experienced a breakdown. The judge called Moreno’s actions “intentionally brutal and heinous.”
Her ruling came after a detailed account by prosecutors of Moreno’s actions that day:
Moreno had slipped out of the family home in Des Plaines with the boy in the morning while another aunt went to wake up her kids and his grandmother went to change, according to 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,” the prosecutor 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 to Navy Pier with several children, Scaduto said.
“Instead of viewing that as a fun afternoon with their aunt, the child who was old enough reached out to family members to say where they were and sent a pin marker so they could be located and picked up,” the prosecutor said.
On Monday, Moreno initially attempted to take her nephew to the Shedd Aquarium but 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, Scaduto said. She 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.
The boy is suffering from a swollen brain and bleeding in his 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,” the prosecutor said.
Moreno was arrested at the scene and 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,” and suggested the attack was precipitated by a psychotic break and was not premeditated.
“I believe that something happened … inside of her,” Shine said.
Her attorney said Moreno has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and insomnia, and takes medication daily. 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. “This incident is an anomaly in her background.”
He described the incident a week earlier — when Moreno took her young family members to Navy Pier — as “a field trip” and insisted Moreno’s intentions were “innocent.”
He said Moreno is married and has lived at the family home in Des Plaines for 14 years. 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 the judge acknowledged Moreno’s struggles with mental illness, she said 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.
Moreno’s next court date was set for Sept. 30.
‘What else could I have done?’
Two witnesses cited by prosecutors during the hearing told the Sun-Times they were walking along the lakefront Monday afternoon when they heard a splash and noticed Moreno peering into the water, where the boy was floating on his back.
“He seemed disoriented, a little out of it [and] scared out of his mind,” Ashton 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 her friend Allison Huston tried to keep the boy “as calm as possible.” By then, he still had his eyes open but was unresponsive, King said.
Huston 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,” she 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 underwater, 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, 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 his son.
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 the boy lives are friendly and speak with one another 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 the boy. 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 Moreno may have been on drugs at the time.