CHICAGO — A woman has been charged with attempted murder after she pushed her 3-year-old nephew into Lake Michigan and watched him drown Monday near Navy Pier, prosecutors said.
Victoria Moreno, 34, of suburban Des Plaines, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child younger than 13, police said. Judge Susana Ortiz ordered Moreno to be held without bail.
Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto said Moreno looked around to make sure no one was around before she pushed the boy into the water — and had taken the boy and two nieces to the same spot a week before Monday’s drowning, frightening one of the children. The boy is expected to die from his injuries, Scaduto said.
“The way I can describe this act is that it was intentionally brutal and heinous, and it was an act indicative of wanton cruelty to push a child into the lake and let them suffer and struggle and provide no assistance whatsoever,” Ortiz told the court.
The boy and aunt lived together in suburban Des Plaines with other family members, including the boy’s mother, grandmother and two cousins, Scaduto said. On Monday, during several moments when no other relatives were in the home’s kitchen, Moreno stole keys for the family’s truck, grabbed the 3-year-old and snuck out, Scaduto said.
Realizing Moreno had taken the truck and remembering what had happened the week prior, when Moreno took the three children, the family searched the neighborhood, Scaduto said.
Moreno drove to Chicago, where she tried to get into the Shedd Aquarium, but she was unable to get in, Scaduto said. Around 12:15 p.m., she took the boy to the McDonald’s at Navy Pier and bought a Happy Meal for the boy, who ate it, Scaduto said.
Video shows Moreno then walked down the road near the pier with the boy, though the boy was not “closely by her side” and a driver almost hit him, Scaduto said. Moreno grabbed the boy and they walked to the sidewalk closer to the water.
There, a chain linked to posts is set up to keep people from getting closer to the water, Scaduto said. The boy crawled beneath the chain, and Moreno grabbed his foot and pulled him back — “apparently because there were several people” nearby, Scaduto said.
Moreno looked around multiple times, waited for people to leave and looked around again, Scaduto said. When no one was around, she let the boy crawl under the chain and to the end of the platform, a distance of about 3 feet, Scaduto said.
Moreno looked around once more and then climbed over the chain, crouched behind the boy, “straddled him” and pushed him into Lake Michigan using both her hands, Scaduto said. It was about a 6-and-a-half-foot drop into the lake, Scaduto said.
Moreno then sat and stared at the water where the boy was drowning, Scaduto said.
After several seconds, Moreno got up and walked toward a nearby stop sign and stood on the sidewalk, “doing nothing,” Scaduto said.
Two people walking nearby had heard the boy hit the water and saw Scaduto near the platform; they asked her what happened and who the boy was, Scaduto said. Moreno told them she did not know who the child was or what had happened, the prosecutor said.
The boy at first floated on his back, but he began to struggle, and Moreno did not do anything, Scaduto said. Moreno said she did not have a phone to call anyone, Scaduto said.
One of the people called police, and the other got a flotation device several minutes after Moreno had pushed the boy into the water, Scaduto said.
After the boy struggled, he sank into the water, Scaduto said.
A third person who was nearby helped throw the floatation device into the water in case the boy came back to the surface, Scaduto said.
“But by that point, it was too late,” Scaduto said. “Not once during any of these events did [Moreno] scream for help, call for help, ask for help or try herself to help.”
Moreno told officers who came to the scene she didn’t know the boy and had seen him trip into the water, Scaduto said. The witnesses told officers about her behavior.
All of the incident was caught on video, Scaduto said.
The boy was pulled from the bottom of Lake Michigan by first responders, Scaduto said; he’d spent 30 minutes in the water.
The boy was hospitalized in critical condition. His brain was swollen, there was bleeding in his lungs, he had multiple seizures and has had multiple “events of cardiac arrest,” Scaduto said. He needed a heart infusion because his heart was depressed from the drowning, he was diagnosed with post-cardiac arrest syndrome and he is on a ventilator and on cardiac support, the prosecutor said.
The boy will be reevaluated within the next few days to see if he has brain activity, but it is unlikely he will survive, Scaduto said.
If the boy dies, additional charges are expected for Moreno, Scaduto said.
Moreno’s attorney asked that she be released with electronic monitoring, saying she has “severe mental health issues” and has depression, anxiety and insomnia, for which she takes medications.
Moreno’s attorney said he does not think the drowning was planned, she is not a danger to the community and she does not have a criminal background or history of running from police.
But Scaduto said prosecutors were concerned Moreno wouldn’t follow electronic monitoring, saying she’d stolen the truck keys Monday and the week before — even though she knew she wasn’t allowed to drive and was disobeying her family’s expectations that she not take the truck because of “concerns” they had.
During the incident last week, when Moreno took the boy and her 11- and 2-year-old nieces to Navy Pier, the children had been frightened enough that the oldest to them called her family to tell them where they were and sent them a “pin” with their location, Scaduto said. The family hadn’t allowed the woman to take the children, and they used the 11-year-old’s information to find them and take them home, Scaduto said.
“These are family members, children. And I appreciate and I understand what [Moreno’s lawyer] is saying, that there is likely a mental health component here; but the inability to control one’s thoughts and impulses makes them as equal a danger to the community as someone who may be acting with the sheer intent of committing bad acts,” Ortiz said.
“These children within the family, should she be released, are in danger of being taken again. … The court believes that there was some level of premeditation here in going to those locations. The older child felt fearful about what was going on .. .”
Moreno’s next court date is Sept. 30.
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