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Widow mom of 2 kids files kidnapping case vs Gentle Hands Inc.

Another mother has filed charges of kidnapping and failure to return a minor against the executive director of the Quezon City childcare facility, which is owned and managed by Gentle Hands Inc.

Complainant Karizza Joyce Torcatos, assisted by her counsel Atty. Marianne Barrameda of the LGTON Law firm, filed the case of kidnapping and failure to return a minor under Article 270 of the Revised Penal Code against the GHI executive director before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday, July 19.

Named respondent in Torcatos’ complaint-affidavit is GHI executive director Charity Heppner-Graf, of legal age and with her last known address at No. 27 F. Castillo St, Project 4, Cubao, Quezon City, “where she may all be served with the subpoena and other processes of the prosecutor’s office.”

Torcatos, a widow with two children, is the third mother to file a kidnapping case against GHI for its failure to return the children to the mother’s custody.

The first two mothers, who filed separate kidnapping cases against GHI and its executive director, were Monina Espinosa Roxas and Melanie Marzan, both of whom had painful experiences in trying to take back their children from the GHI’s Quezon City childcare facility.

After four months of being separated from her kids, Roxas was finally reunited with her three children last July 6, while Marzan was reunited with her 20-month-old baby last May. The reintegration of the children to their respective mothers were facilitated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – National Capital Region Field Office.

“I am charging Ms. Heppner-Graff with two counts of the crime of Kidnapping and Failure to Return a Minor defined under Article 270 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed against my minor children (aged 5 and 3 years old),” Torcatos said in her complaint-affidavit.

Based on Torcatos recollection, in the morning of 11 January 2023, while she was at work in her office in Ortigas, Pasig City, she received an urgent call from Ms. Jennilyn Laurio, the owner of the house where she and her two children were temporarily living.

Ms. Laurio told Torcatos that policemen and people from the Barangay Council for Protection of Children of Barangay Bagbag, Quezon City, without any judicial process, and based merely on a “spot report”, took her two children from Ms. Laurio’s house.

Torcatos, accompanied by Ms. Laurio, immediately went to the Barangay Hall of Bagbag, where they were informed that two kids were turned over to an orphanage named Gentle Hands, Inc.

“I was informed there that the spot report came from a complaint of a certain Ericka Arcinue, a person who unsuccessfully tried to borrow money from me. After she failed to borrow money, she called up Bantay Bata and falsely claimed that I have been neglecting my children,” Torcatos said.

Since the complaint from Ericka Arcinue was based on falsehood, Torcatos threatened the people of the Bagbag Barangay Hall that she will go to (Raffy) Tulfo to air her complaint. Fearing her threat, Torcatos was given the address of GHI, which is in No. 27 F. Castillo St, Proj. 4, Cubao, Quezon City.

On 12 January 2023, Torcatos went to GHI to get her children back. She was met by Ms. Heppner-Graff, who introduced herself as the Director of GHI. With her were Drix and Jean, employees of GHI. She also admitted to me that GHI has custody of her two kids.

Torcatos explained to Ms. Heppner-Graff that the spot report was a lie made up by Arcinue, who had a grudge against her, and that she never neglected her children. She even showed the GHI executive director copies of her children’s birth certificates as well as her Identification card.

“Instead of being sympathetic to my plight, Ms. Heppner-Graff was very rude and angry at me. She told me that she will not give my children back to me, and that a procedure provided by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) would have to be followed. However, she did not tell me what this “procedure” and she also did not give me any court order or process that gave her and GHI the right to keep custody of (her children). She just told me that I would have to show to her and GHI that I am financially and emotionally stable to get my children back. Furthermore, she told me to come back after a week and talk to her again,” Torcatos narrated in her affidavit.

Even though Ms. Graff told her to come back after a week, Torcatos went back the next day, Jan. 13, 2023, to try and convince GHI to return her children.

“I was stopped by Drix, who told me that Ms. Heppner-Graf is in a meeting then and cannot talk to me. He also told me that I would have to prove to GHI that I am financially and emotionally capable of taking care of my children. Again, to emphasize, GHI has not shown to me any judicial document that shows that I cannot have custody of my children,” Torcatos said.

Torcatos continued to visit her children and every time she was able to see them, the meeting was short and a GHI personnel is always around listening to their conversations.

In of her visits, Torcatos was surprised when told by Ms. Graff that she can never get her children back while she is still living with her “policeman-boyfriend.”

What angered Torcatos was when she learned from Drix that her 5-year-old son was sent by GHI to the hospital for a hernia operation without her knowledge. “I was so shocked and alarmed that I was not even informed of this fact, and GHI continued to keep my children from me.”

“I tried to comply by undergoing a drug test, which resulted in a negative finding which I submitted to GHI, and I also submitted to GHI proof of my income. My in-laws, the parents and relatives of my deceased husband, were also interviewed by GHI, and they all told GHI that they can also help me support my children,” Torcatos said.

“Despite all the results I have shown to GHI, Ms. Heppner-Graff and GHI still refused to release my children. In fact, Ms. Heppner-Graff told me that she learned from the NBI that I am still living with my policeman-boyfriend and this means that I cannot get my children back. Again, Ms. Heppner-Graff failed to show me at this time any court order or even any legal document that would justify GHI not giving me back custody of my children,” the widow said.

During the times Torcatos was able to see her two kids, she noticed that they became more and more withdrawn and lethargic. “The third time I saw them, they are even more passive and they were no longer speaking.”

On June 2, 2023, with the aid of the DSWD-NCR Office, Torcatos was able to get back custody of her kids. She noticed that her two kids were still very lethargic or “matamlay”.

“They both lost a lot of weight and the (5-year-old’s) bowel movement has blood. They also both said that the kids at GHI, and also the staff, were very mean to them. The (5-year-old) also showed to me red welts or marks in his buttocks. He said that a certain Sarah Joy was spanking him hard every time he speaks in Tagalog,” Torcatos narrated.

“Based on personal knowledge and/or authentic documents in my possession, I am executing this Complaint-Affidavit to attest to the truth of the foregoing and for the purpose of indicting Respondents for the crime of Kidnapping and failure to return a minor and for such other crime/s that the foregoing acts may constitute,” Torcatos said in her affidavit.

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