NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The mother of the little girl known as “Baby Hope,” whose identity was discovered last week after 22 years, spoke out for the first time on Monday.
Margarita Castillo, the mother of Anjelica Castillo, did not want to appear on camera. But from her apartment in Elmhurst, Queens, she told reporters including CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown that she is devastated.
Speaking through the door, Castillo said in Spanish, “I want to thank the people who praying for my daughter.”
“We are never going to have peace,” Castillo added. “We are just waiting for justice.”
Anjelica Castillo was sexually assaulted, smothered and stuffed inside a cooler, authorities said. Her body was dumped along the Henry Hudson Parkway in July of 1991.
The tragic story was made all the more heartbreaking when no one came forward to identify the little girl. No family member ever publicly grieved for her and no one ever claimed her body.
But police got a break in the cold case over the summer. An anonymous tip led investigators to the girl’s mother, which lead to a DNA match and ultimately to her cousin, 52-year-old Conrado Juarez, police said.
Police said he confessed to killing the girl after sexually abusing her and that he told his sister, who is now dead, about the crime years ago. Juarez claimed he accidentally smothered the girl to keep her quiet after the sexual abuse.
He told authorities that the sister helped him dispose of the body, police said.
Juarez, 52, was charged with felony murder late Saturday. He pleaded not guilty and was remanded to custody.
As CBS 2’s Tamara Leitner reported, Castillo’s neighbor and friend, George Gonzalez, had no idea the woman he knew was at the center of a 22-year-old murder case.
“She always treated her kids well,” he said. “She always went everywhere with her kids.”
No one, he says, ever mentioned Anjelica.
“When I walked into a store, I saw the front page of the newspaper and said ‘oh wow, that’s here,'” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez could not believe just how close to home the case had actually hit, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
“I can’t believe it — I’m speechless, actually. I can’t believe that that’s actually real, and she’s the mom,” he said.
Another longtime family friend, Miguel de la Rosa, added, “It really surprised me what happened.”
And as CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, many neighbors could not understand why Castillo has shown no apparent interest in explaining why Anjelica was never reported missing 22 years ago.
“Me as a mother; I would find out where my baby is,” said neighbor Nikki Fung.
Margarita Castillo did not say why she never reported her daughter missing, if she ever knew she was murdered or whether she feels any guilt.
When asked about suspect Juarez, Castillo said she only knew what the police had told her.
Detectives from the 34th Precinct were the ones that named the child “Baby Hope” and pitched in with their own money to buy the girl a headstone and cemetery plot at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx in 1993.
A laminated white sheet of paper with her real name has since been attached to her tombstone.
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