Baby found buried in Compton pothole celebrates 3rd birthday with adopted family

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Cassandra Frazier believes in God. She believes in guardian angels.

And she believes in providence.

“I think,” Aspen’s new mom said, “God wanted her with me.”

On the Monday after Perry and Colette rescued Aspen, the Sheriff’s Department held a press conference asking for the public’s help finding her biological mother.

“I couldn’t believe someone could do that,” Frazier said. “I remember being glad it wasn’t anyone we knew.”

But then, several days later – with community chatter exploding – Frazier’s sister, Sherry Frazier, called her.

“I told her to sit down,” Sherry Frazier said.

Aspen’s grandmother, she told her sister, was their cousin.

The Frazier sisters, originally from Jackson, Mississippi, knew about Washington, but they weren’t close.

“Her mom was right up the street from where I lived,” Cassandra Frazier said. “I was a little sad about that. We could have helped her if we knew what was going on.”

But they could help Aspen: Their first stop was to the Department of Children and Family Services, to find out what was happening with their kin.

The sisters, for years, had wanted to do more to help the 18,000 children countywide toiling in the foster-care system. But, they said, the timing was never right: They had their own families to think of, their livelihoods weren’t secure.

But finally, in their 50s and with their kids grown, they were ready. In February 2015, the sisters became foster parents.

Cassandra Frazier’s first charge was a 12-year-old boy, who stayed with her for about six months.

In April 2016, Aspen became her second. After four months elsewhere, Aspen was back with family. At the DCFS building in Los Angeles, Frazier held Aspen in her arms.

“I thought, ‘Here we go again,’” Frazier said last week, smiling. “But it was awesome. She was mine.”

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Valenzuela, a detective in the sheriff’s special victims bureau, pulled up to the bike path moments before Colette discovered Aspen.

She had been a detective for about a year and was clocking overtime on patrol.

When Colette stood up, baby in tow, she paused.

“It was the most surreal thing,” said Valenzuela, who spent six years patrolling Compton. “I was almost afraid to look at her.”

Aspen’s color was off. She looked underweight. She felt cold.

Valenzuela held down the crime scene while Colette and Perry – who also canvassed neighbors – checked on Aspen at the hospital. The trio hoped against a murder investigation.

The next day, Valenzuela went to the hospital herself, now as the lead investigator, to interview doctors and nurses. On such a cold night, the temperature dropping with the sun, Aspen wouldn’t have survived much longer, they told her.

Instead, the dirt was now gone from Aspen’s face. She was eating, the doctors said. And, though she had trace amounts of PCP in her system and signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, she seemed healthy.

Valenzuela cradled Aspen – then known only as Baby Doe – and stared at her.

“It was hard,” Valenzuela said. “My mother instincts kicked in. You want to protect her, but you also get angry at the person who did this.”

Like a true mom, Valenzuela gave Aspen her own nickname: Baby Grace.

“Someone,” the detective said, “was looking out for her.”

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That was the first of several sleepless nights for Valenzuela.

She swabbed Baby Grace’s cheeks, hoping for a DNA match. She spoke at the press conference. And she surveyed local medical facilities.

Eventually, a doctor at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Compton, said she remembered the baby and her mother.

The mom, the doctor said, acted appropriately. She tried to nurse. She bonded with the infant. She even took extra formula when she checked out.

The doctor told Valenzuela the baby’s name – and then the mother’s.

“I knew her,” Valenzuela said.

Months before, the detective recalled, Washington had been beaten with a tire iron, prompting a special-victims investigation.

But that meant the detective knew where Washington hung out. They surveilled her local haunts and, on Dec. 3, 2015,

Porche Washington cradled her newborn daughter, Aspen, in her arms.

Washington’s life to that point had been marred by drugs and homelessness and unplanned pregnancies. She knew she couldn’t keep her daughter.

So there Washington stood, in front of a Compton fire station around Thanksgiving 2015, ready to do the right thing, ready to drop off her child. She could just walk away, no questions asked.

But she couldn’t.

“She had bonded with her at the hospital,” said Detective Jennifer Valuenzela, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy who would investigate what followed.

Instead, Washington took Aspen and got high.

Within days, Aspen lay crying in a pothole.

Her story could have ended there. It could have stopped, hours later, with her swaddled in a hospital blanket, cold and lifeless and alone.

But it didn’t.

Two weeks ago, Aspen was one of about 200 kids to formally get new families, during a National Adoption Day ceremony in Monterey Park. A week after that, she celebrated her third birthday.

This is Aspen’s journey.

“I think there’s a baby in there.”

Deputy Adam Colette and his training partner, David Perry, started their shifts late in the afternoon on Nov. 27, 2015, the day after Thanksgiving.

The sun sank. The autumn air was crisp. A cold night loomed.

Around 4 p.m., a dispatcher radioed the deputies: Two women, walking along a bike path in Compton, heard cries, but saw no signs of a child.

“I thought it was an animal,” Perry, now a sergeant, said. “A dog or cat.”

They drove to the end of 136th Street, in a residential neighborhood, where it curves into Slater Avenue.

There, a chain-link fence, with an open gate, runs along Slater, separating it from the bike path; the path runs parallel with – though well above – Compton Creek, a Los Angeles River tributary.

On any given day, tall-boy beer bottles and empty cigarette packages line the path. Wild vines cling to the fences. Wind-strewn fast-food cartons lay about.

When the deputies arrived, they said, everything seemed normal.

But then Colette heard a mewl – faint, almost phantom-like.

“I thought that was weird,” he said. “I shouldn’t be hearing a baby cry.”

The deputies looked up and down the path – but nothing. Colette looked through the fence at the creek below – nothing still. He looked down:

A pothole.

Perry told Colette to put on his gloves – still worried it could be a feral cat – and dig.

Colette felt around. Dirt, he said, just dirt.

Source:: East Bay – Lifestyle

      

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