CHICAGO — Marlen Ochoa-Lopez attended her classes at Latino Youth High School last month and planned to pick up her 3-year-old at day care later that afternoon.
But first, the 19-year-old, who was nine months pregnant, decided to stop by a home in Chicago and pick up a stroller and some baby clothes, police said.
That was on April 23, the last day she was seen alive. Her body was found Tuesday in a garbage can in the backyard of the woman who’d offered her baby items, police said.
Ochoa-Lopez had been strangled with a cable, and her unborn baby forcibly removed from her womb, Deputy Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said. The baby is hospitalized in grave condition.
An appeal for baby items
Before Ochoa-Lopez went missing, she made an appeal to mothers on a Facebook group called “Help A Sister Out.” She needed help securing a double stroller for her toddler and a new baby on the way, according to the posts.
The high school student wrote that she was jobless and short on cash, and was willing to buy, trade or simply accept a donation.
A woman responded with an offer of new baby clothes and other unused items, and asked Ochoa-Lopez to message her privately.
The two women were not complete strangers, and Ochoa-Lopez had bought other baby items from her in the past, police said.
The woman was one of three people arrested in the home where her body was found. Two were charged with murder and other crimes and one with concealment of a crime, police said.
The suspects include Clarisa Figueroa, 46, who allegedly lured her to the home, and her 24-year-old daughter, Desiree, who police said confessed to taking part in the killing.
“Words really cannot express how disgusting and thoroughly disturbing these allegations are,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
An agonizing search for answers
For three weeks, Ochoa-Lopez ‘s anguished family members searched for her.
They turned to the local church for help in setting up fliers and reaching out to the community at large.
“I had to hire a private detective and he was the one who found out about my daughter’s location because he went into that (Facebook) page and found all the information, and he gave it to the police but even then, they took too long to get there,” her father, Arnulfo Ochoa, said at a news conference on Thursday.
The same day Ochoa-Lopez went missing, the Chicago Fire Department had received a call about a newborn in distress from the home where the young mother’s body was eventually found, authorities said.
For the three weeks she was missing, the baby had already been forcibly removed from her womb and was hospitalized.
The baby was taken to a hospital that day along with a woman who claimed to be the mother, according to fire department spokesman Larry Langford.
All this time, Figueroa had allegedly pretended that it was her baby.
A break in the case
The break in the case came on May 7, police said. A friend of the victim told detectives about the Facebook exchanges with Figueroa before she vanished.
When investigators interviewed Figueroa, she denied the victim came to her house on April, 23 but she admitted to meeting her in the past.
When crime lab officers searched the house, they found bleach and cleaning solution, along with a garbage hidden in an area, where they discovered the victim’s remains, police said.
“In the house, and they are finding remains of burned clothes, they are finding some blood indication on the living room carpet, some blood indication on the hallway, some blood indication on the bathroom floor,” police said.
After they found DNA evidence and interviewed the people at the home, three people were charged, authorities said.
A confession and questions
Detectives visited the Figueroa home last week after learning of the Facebook contact between the two women. But Ochoa-Lopez’s family said they notified authorities about her interaction with the woman much sooner.
Desiree Figueroa told them her mother was in the hospital for problems with her legs. Then she revealed that her mother had just delivered a baby, authorities said.
Suspicious, detectives subpoenaed hospital records and began to collect DNA samples from the baby, his biological father and Clarisa Figueroa.
On Tuesday, armed with a search warrant, detectives discovered bleach and cleaning solutions in the home, along with evidence of burned clothing and blood on the floors of the living room, bathroom and a hallway, according to Deenihan.
Ochoa-Lopez’s body was found in a garbage can in the yard, with the cable used to strangle her and other evidence. Desiree Lopez told detectives she helped her mother strangle her, Deenihan said.
The two women have been charged with one felony count of first-degree murder and one felony count of aggravated battery of a child less than 13 years old, police said.
Piotr Bobak, Clarisa Figueroa’s boyfriend, has been charged with one felony count of concealing the death of a person and one felony count of concealing a homicidal death.
The motive for the killing is under investigation, but the superintendent said he believes the suspect wanted to raise the child as her own.