Modesto police arrested a mother Thursday suspected of abducting her two small daughters outside the Child Protective Services office in downtown Fresno, touching off a statewide Amber Alert.
Bianca Molina, 36, had gone to the CPS office on Fresno Street for a visitation Wednesday with her girls, 3 and 5 years old, Fresno police Lt. Don Gross said. Molina encountered the girls and their foster mother outside the building, and the girls ran to Molina to hug her.
That's when Molina reportedly picked up the younger girl, Maritza Palafox, took the other girl, Bianca Galvan, by the hand, and the three of them left in a car, Gross said.
State, local and federal authorities were alerted, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Gross said.
Molina was driving a blue 2007 Dodge Caliber, reported stolen from an acquaintance, with California license number 5YDT883.
The car had been rented by Molina's acquaintance, Gross said. Molina reportedly borrowed the car, but when she failed to return it, her acquaintance reported it stolen. The theft report was filed before the alleged abduction, Gross said.
Modesto police spotted the stolen car about 5:30 p.m. Thursday near downtown, but they didn't know then that it was involved in a kidnapping, Sgt. Craig Gundlach said. When they tried to pull the driver over, the car sped off. Police gave chase but broke off the pursuit when traffic on H Street got heavy. They were able to keep the car in sight, however.
The California Highway Patrol joined the hunt and spotted the car on Ninth Street. The CHP followed the car until it stopped at a house on the 1500 block of Holm Avenue, between East Hatch and River roads, Gundlach said.
When the car stopped, a small girl ran into the house while two adults stayed in the car. Officers approached and found that the driver was Molina. She was arrested on the warrants from Fresno as well as suspicion of evading a peace officer and other charges, Gundlach said.
A man in the passenger seat was arrested on outstanding warrants. His name was not available late Thursday.
People at the house were cooperative and allowed police to search, but the girls were not found, Gundlach said.
A check of records revealed that Molina has another daughter, Pricilla Christine DeLeon, 18, of Modesto, Gundlach said. People at the house said they saw DeLeon leave with two little girls just as police arrived.
Detectives uncovered two other houses in Modesto that had a connection at one time to Molina or DeLeon. The people living there now were coopera- tive and allowed police to search, Gundlach said, but there was no evidence the girls had been there recently.
Molina reportedly has family in Modesto, Ceres and Farmersville.
Gundlach said Molina became ill after she was arrested and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Little was revealed about why Molina's smallest daughters were in foster care.
CPS Director Catherine Huerta in Fresno called the incident "very, very uncommon." She said she could not remember the last time a child under the agency's care was abducted by a parent.
"This is something that just does not happen," Huerta said. "As a parent, you don't want to do anything that will jeopardize your case."
In 32 years as a Fresno County employee -- including 10 with CPS -- Huerta said, she couldn't recall a similar case.
"We've always found our parents very cooperative and willing to work with us so they don't risk their chances of getting their children back," Huerta said.
Huerta and Gross said they don't believe Molina had planned to abduct her children.
"It's looks like a spur-of-the-moment thing," Huerta said, "but she made a bad decision."
There is no evidence that anyone else was involved, Gross said.
Gross said he was restricted on how much information he could release on how the children came to be in the hands of CPS, but he said the children were turned over to the agency in September.
Huerta was unable to discuss details about the family's case, but said she was unaware of any indication that the children would be at risk of being harmed by their mother.
Anyone with information about Molina or the children may contact the nearest law enforcement agency or call CrimeStoppers at 521-4636.
Bee assistant city editor Dave Peterson can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2342.