CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — The boy was too little to say his name, but his sorrowful expression as a medical worker cradled him spoke volumes.
A local woman had called the Central Falls police before dawn on Sunday and said she’d found the boy alone beside a highway exit in Pawtucket as she was riding home. She said her Uber driver didn’t want to call the police or get involved, so, she told investigators, she took the child home to her apartment in Central Falls and called for help.
The only thing the staff at Hasbro Children’s Hospital could determine was that the boy was around 2 years old. He had dirty feet and a small scratch on his face. He was healthy but very tired. He couldn’t tell anyone who he was or where he came from.
Police alerted other law enforcement agencies in New England, in search of the boy’s parents. No one had reported the boy missing. Pawtucket police sent a photo of the sad-faced boy and a press release to local media, asking for help.
As police from Central Falls and Pawtucket investigated they became suspicious and found more questions.
The answer came when the boy’s mother arrived, emotional and frantic, at the Pawtucket Police Department Sunday afternoon. The good Samaritan was actually the boy’s babysitter.
Daniela Peraza Lemus, 22, had been partying at the mother’s house in Central Falls the night before and, around 1 a.m., offered to take the boy for a sleepover. Then, she apparently got tired of watching him and called the police with a concocted story, Central Falls Captain Craig Viens said.
The mother had no idea that her child’s face was all over the local news or that he was the subject of a New England-wide investigation, Viens said.
She was expecting to pick up her son from Lemus’s apartment when Lemus called to tell her the Pawtucket police had taken her son away “for no reason,” Viens said.
The police captain called the incident “the saddest thing I’ve seen in 21 years.”
“You put a child in a situation where the child did nothing wrong, and then you put a community in fear that this child was just wandering around and almost went onto the highway,” Viens said Tuesday. “We were trying to locate the parents of a child wandering near 95. Now you’re having the entire community in an uproar — Did someone kidnap the kid and dump him? Did he almost wander onto the highway?
“There were so many bad outcomes, and all you had to do was just pick up the phone and call the grandmother or mother, and say, ‘Hey come get him,’” Viens said. “She could have called police and said, ‘I can’t watch the kid anymore.”'
Central Falls Police Chief Anthony Roberson said Lemus couldn’t give the investigators any reason why she made up the story. The detectives eventually determined the toddler was never outside, never at an exit along the highway, and had probably been home with Lemus — until she called the police.
“I’m glad that he is safe and sound,” Roberson said Tuesday.
Pawtucket police have charged Lemus with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. Central Falls police say they are drafting a warrant as well and are continuing to investigate.
The state Department of Children, Youth, and Families is also involved.
Viens said Lemus told them that she asked to have the boy over because the mother had gotten into an argument with someone at the house party. “She took the child from the home to get it out of a bad environment and didn’t want the mother to have DCYF involvement,” Viens said. “And then, she made the thing 10 times worse.”