SAN AUGUSTINE, Texas — Krystle Tanner and her mother, Gloria Walker, for years had successfully concealed the true identity of the boy that authorities say they kidnapped from Houston in 2004 when he was just 8 months old.
They hid him in homes in Central and East Texas, kept him out of school and didn't call him by his given name of Miguel Morin, instead renaming him Jaquan. The boy, knowing nothing of who he really was, called Tanner mother and Walker grandmother.
And their secret might never have been discovered if Tanner's newborn son in April 2010 had not tested positive for marijuana. That prompted an investigation by child welfare officials, who were told by Tanner she had another child.
However, attempts to find that other child, who turned out to be Miguel, would go on for nearly two more years as authorities say Tanner and Walker thwarted their efforts through elaborate lies and by secretly shuttling Miguel between homes.
Tanner, 27, and Walker, 50, who each face charges of kidnapping and injury to a child, pleaded not guilty Friday during their first court appearances since being indicted last month.
During the brief court hearing in San Augustine, the women were appointed attorneys, who didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment. Tanner and Walker each remained in jail on $250,000 bond. Prosecutors said they hope to try the case sometime in August.
Miguel, now 8 years old, is in foster care as a Houston judge waits to hear next month from therapists on when the boy can be reunited with his parents, who are seeking custody despite allowing their four other children to live with another couple.
Investigators believe that in 2004, Tanner, then 19, wanted a child of her own "very badly," said San Augustine County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Gary Cunningham. She lived in the same Houston apartment complex as Miguel and his family, and often baby-sat him.
"Krystle Tanner saw an opportunity, as did her mother, to get this little baby," Cunningham said.
Authorities said that after being taken, Miguel apparently spent much of his time with Walker in a two-story home in Manor, located in the Austin metro area in Central Texas. He also lived with Tanner in a mobile home in San Augustine, a small town nestled in the East Texas woods, about 150 miles northeast of Houston.
During these years, Miguel didn't learn to read or write and never went to school. His long, dark hair, never having been cut, was braided. He was told his birthday was March 26 when it was actually March 1.
The first word of his possible location came in April 2010, when Child Protective Services in San Augustine County began investigating Tanner after marijuana was detected in her newborn son's bloodstream, according to Walker's arrest warrant affidavit. Tanner told CPS she also had a 6-year-old son who lived with her mother in Manor.
Walker denied such a boy existed, and Tanner later recanted her claim.
With no proof of the boy, CPS worked with Tanner, offering parenting classes and other support for her newborn, said CPS spokeswoman Julie Moody.
Nearly a year passed before CPS got another tip, in March 2011, that a half-black, half-Hispanic boy, possibly 5 years old, was living in Walker's home in Manor under harsh conditions, including physical abuse. The boy's description matched Miguel's.
Walker again denied the child's existence, and CPS closed the case in May.
Authorities say Walker brought Miguel to Tanner and he stayed with her until about August, when Walker told her daughter to return him to Manor.
"According to Tanner, upon arriving at Walker's residence, Walker `turned off the lights and would not come outside' but directed Tanner's sister to give her an unspecified amount of cash and instructions to immediately transport the child to (another) sister who resides in Houston," according to the arrest affidavit.
Meanwhile, CPS and the sheriff's office continued investigating Tanner. She changed her description of the boy authorities sought, first referring to him as her brother and later saying he was the son of a woman named "Christy" whom she had met at a park in the nearby town of Center, according to the affidavit.
It wasn't until March 7 that CPS conclusively identified the boy as Miguel. Tanner was arrested March 12 and the next day, one of her sisters called Houston police to say she had the boy.
Cunningham said after her arrest, Tanner claimed she had been brainwashed by her mother into hiding the boy.
Whitney Walker, one of Tanner's sisters who lives in Houston, said Miguel's mother gave the boy to Tanner.
"She said she (Tanner) could have him. She didn't want him," said Whitney Walker, 20.
Authorities in San Augustine County don't believe Miguel was given away.
"I have no doubt that this child was kidnapped," said San Augustine County District Attorney Kevin Dutton.
Miguel's mother, Auboni Champion-Morin, and her husband, Fernando Morin, have four other children, ages 7 to 14, who are living with another couple under an agreement between the two couples, said Champion-Morin's attorney Itze Soliz-Matthews. The attorney would not comment on the arrangement, only saying the Morins are very active in parenting those children and want Miguel back.
"They took her child," she said. "They never had any kind of authority to keep him."
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