A mother and her daughter have been charged in the killing of a 19-year-old pregnant woman who was strangled before her baby boy was cut from her womb, a horrific crime authorities said may have been committed because they wanted to keep the child.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Chicago police officials said detectives found coaxial cable used to strangle Marlen Ochoa-Lopez in the same garbage can in which her body was found outside the family's Southwest Side home.
Clarisa Figueroa, 46, and her daughter, Desiree, 24, were both charged with one count each of first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child causing permanent disability. The elder Figueroa's boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, 40, was charged with concealment of a homicide. Police said the younger Figueroa confessed to assisting her mother in strangling Ochoa-Lopez.
Police said the motive for the killing was unclear, but police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said that "we can only assume" that the Figueroas planned to raise the baby as their own. Officials said the elder Figueroa had already lost a son in his 20s to natural causes around 2017.
Ochoa-Lopez went missing April 23 after leaving Latino Youth High School in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. Nine months' pregnant, the teen, who had met the elder Figueroa through Facebook, was lured to Figueroa's home with an offer of a double stroller and baby clothes. Once inside the home in the 4100 block of West 77th Place, police said Ochoa-Lopez was killed and the baby removed.
The newborn had problems breathing, and the elder Figueroa made a frantic 911 call saying the baby was "pale and blue," officials said. The baby was rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where the teen's family said the boy was brain-dead but still connected Thursday to life support.
Authorities also said that Ochoa-Lopez had been to the residence on previous occasions.
"Apparently, Ms. Ochoa had bought other baby items from Clarisa in the past, so they knew each other," Johnson told reporters.
Police said detectives didn't begin to piece the case together until May 7 – two weeks after Ochoa-Lopez went missing – when a friend of the teenage mom mentioned that she took part on a chat site on Facebook. On checking out the site, detectives learned that Ochoa-Lopez had gone to the Figueroa home to collect baby clothes. Detectives then went to the home and interviewed the younger Figueroa, who eventually disclosed that her 46-year-old mother had just given birth to a baby. A search of the neighborhood revealed Ochoa-Lopez's car parked not far away, police said.
That same day, detectives went to the hospital to talk to the elder Figueroa, who denied that Ochoa-Lopez had showed up at her house April 23. Police subpoenaed hospital records and eventually learned from DNA evidence that the newborn was not the child of the elder Figueroa as she had claimed.
On Tuesday, detectives confronted the younger Figueroa and searched the family residence. Inside the garbage can in the backyard, police found Ochoa-Lopez's remains and the coaxial cable used to strangle her, authorities said. Detectives also found the remnants of burned clothes and the indication of blood throughout the Figueroa home as well as bleach and cleaning solution, police said.
Ochoa-Lopez's father was critical Thursday of police efforts, saying he didn't think the department gave enough attention early on to the disappearance because of the family's immigrant background.
"We came to this country to give a good life for my daughter," Arnulfo Ochoa said outside the Cook County medical examiner's office. "We just want justice for what they did for my daughter," the father said.
The family also questioned why doctors at Advocate Christ Medical Center didn't ask more questions when the baby was taken there.
"Why didn't they notice?" Ochoa asked.
In a brief statement, Advocate Christ Medical Center declined comment "out of respect for patient privacy and in compliance with federal and state regulations."
At the news conference, officials were pressed by reporters to explain why detectives weren't able to more quickly figure out what happened to Ochoa-Lopez.
"Once they got that break on May 7, then things started going quickly," Johnson said. "There was nothing to point us in that direction in the beginning."
"Remember, this is real life. This isn't '48 Hours,'" Johnson said later in reference to a TV crime show. "It doesn't work like that. It takes time."
"I understand that everyone looking back and playing arm-chair quarterback. It's like all these red flags that happened on the 23rd of April," added Brendan Deenihan, assistant chief of detectives. "But these defendants also ... were not that wise. I mean the body's in the garbage can on the premises with the murder weapon inside, and we were still able to get it that much later."
Johnson also addressed the frustration felt by Ochoa-Lopez's family.
"All of us up here are parents, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters, so it doesn't escape us the emotional drain that something like this takes on people," the superintendent said. "I can't even ... pretend to imagine what that family is going through right now. They should be celebrating the birth of a young baby. Instead ... they're mourning the loss of the mother and possibly that young child."
The following is a timeline of the case, pieced together from police, fire officials, the medical examiner's office, the family and neighbors from the home where Ochoa-Lopez was found.
In the days before she disappeared, Ochoa-Lopez visited an online Facebook group for mothers, looking for a stroller and baby clothes for her son, due to be born in less than a month. She came into contact with a woman, allegedly Figueroa, who told her "my girl has all brand new boy clothes her son never wore," according to a screenshot provided by Ochoa-Lopez's family.
"Yes girl thats fine thank you so much," Ochoa-Lopez responded.
"No problem girl," the woman replied. "I know how it is she was lucky to have two baby showers so she just loves to spread the wealth I'm fine with the help inbox me for more info ok."
After classes on April 23, Ochoa-Lopez drove from her high school in Pilsen to a one-story brick home in the Scottsdale neighborhood, about 9 miles away. Around 6 p.m. that day, the Chicago Fire Department answered a 911 call from the home reporting that a child had just been born. When paramedics arrived, they saw "the baby was in obvious distress," according to department spokesman Larry Langford, and the child was taken to the hospital.
Some paramedics stayed on the scene with the woman they believed to be the mother, and asked the woman if she had any cramps, bleeding or dizziness and she said no. She was taken to the same hospital as a precaution.
Paramedics do not typically conduct physical examinations after childbirth, Langford said. At the time, there was nothing suspicious that raised alarms.
The baby was placed in the intensive care unit, where he remained Thursday. The family has said the boy has no brain function, apparently from lack of oxygen. In the following days, the residents of the home on 77th Place apparently set up a GoFundMe page for the baby, according to screenshots provided by Ochoa-Lopez's family. The elder Figueroa was listed as organizing the fundraising drive, which sought $9,000. The page featured the picture of a small baby hooked up to a breathing tube and monitors. It has since been taken down.
On May 8, more than two weeks after the ambulance call, Ochoa-Lopez's black Honda Civic was found abandoned in the 7700 block of South Keeler Avenue, not far from where her body would be discovered. Neighbors on the block said they had seen the car around the neighborhood and noticed several parking tickets on it.
Then, Ochoa-Lopez's family said it had been told by police that DNA samples from the baby were a match with DNA extracted from the teen's toothbrush and hairbrush. The family has been visiting the baby at the hospital, and the father has named the boy Yovani Yadiel Lopez.
On Tuesday afternoon, police officers were seen escorting four people from the home on 77th Place, two women and two men. A day later, the medical examiner's office was notified of a body at the 77th Place address, and it was identified as Ochoa-Lopez.
(Chicago Tribune's Elyssa Cherney contributed to this report.)