San Jose: Family friend conspired with man to kidnap baby, prosecutors say

SAN JOSE — A woman and man stockpiled diapers and baby formula, got a child’s rocker and hatched a plan to abduct her friend’s three-month-old grandson, sparking a frantic search that garnered national attention earlier this week, according to prosecutors.

But even after the pair were arraigned Thursday, questions remained about why they wanted to kidnap the child in the first place.

San Jose residents Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez, 43, and Jose Roman Portillo, 28, were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, kidnapping a child under the age of 14 and first-degree burglary — all felonies — in connection with the abduction of a baby boy, according to a criminal complaint. At an arraignment Thursday, they were remanded to jail without bail at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s request. If convicted, the pair could face up to 11 years to prison.

Outside the courthouse, the mother of the baby boy, Jessica Ayala, spoke publicly for the first time, expressing gratitude to law enforcement for finding her child: “I give thanks to God for letting me be back with my son and to the authorities for helping with this,” she said in Spanish. “We are very happy as a family, me as a mother and my husband is very happy as a father to have our baby back with us safe and sound.”

SAN JOSE, CA – April 28: Jessica Ayala, the mother of the three-month-old baby who was kidnapped and found 18 hours later, speaks to the media outside the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. Two suspects, Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez and Jose Roman Portillo, who were charged in connection with the kidnapping, appeared for an arraignment hearing earlier. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Ayala said that her son is “very stable” and is in “good health” but that it was difficult for her to attend the arraignment Thursday.

“It’s a very difficult to thing to look in the eyes of the person who took your baby and having to contain yourself and not doing anything or saying anything,” she added.

The manhunt for the baby and the suspects accused of kidnapping him began just after 1 p.m. Monday after officers received a report of a missing baby in the 1000 block of Elm Street. It ended Tuesday morning after police got a tip from an employee at a nursing home in an east-side neighborhood about five miles from where the baby was taken; officers found the three-month-old safe.

SAN JOSE, CA – April 28: Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez, center, one of two suspects charged in connection with the kidnapping of a three-month-old baby in San Jose, appears with attorney Cody Salfen for her arraignment hearing at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group/POOL) 
SAN JOSE, CA – April 28: Jose Roman Portillo, center, one of two suspects charged in connection with the kidnapping of a three-month-old baby in San Jose, appears with attorney Karri Iyama for his arraignment hearing at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group/POOL) 

Ramirez allegedly went with the baby and the boy’s grandmother to Walmart on Story Road to run errands; they returned to the grandmother’s home at about 12:46 p.m., prosecutors said. The grandmother, who was watching the baby while his mother was at work, left the child in a bedroom while she unloaded groceries from her car. By the time she returned, the boy was gone, according to authorities.

Portillo, who was identified by police as the man captured on surveillance footage approaching the grandmother’s apartment holding an empty car seat, was seen at 12:48 p.m. walking towards the residence, authorities said. He was spotted minutes later going down the stairs of the apartment complex, holding a car seat that appeared “physically heavier” but the contents were obscured by a blanket.

According to prosecutors, Portillo was on the phone as he walked up to the grandmother’s apartment; Ramirez had made a phone call when she arrived at the home with the baby. Portillo’s contact information was found on Ramirez’s phone and Portillo and Ramirez were both in the area of the Walmart on Story Road at about 12:20 p.m., according to phone data.

A person driving a Nissan Quest, identified by police through security footage, was spotted fleeing the scene. The car was later found to be registered to Ramirez, according to prosecutors. The same vehicle was found parked in front of Portillo’s apartment in the 2000 block of Mather Drive, where the child was found at about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

A search warrant on Portillo’s apartment unearthed baby clothing, baby formula, diapers and a car seat while a search at Ramirez’s residence revealed she had baby care items, including diapers, baby formula and a baby rocker, according to authorities. Neither Ramirez nor Portillo have infants of their own or have babies living in their homes. Nissan car keys were also found in Portillo’s residence. Investigators said Ramirez provided the vehicle to Portillo on April 22 with a car seat inside.

SAN JOSE, CA – APRIL 26: Law enforcement officials load items into a car along Mather Drive on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, in San Jose, Calif. A three-month old baby kidnapped from his San Jose home was found by police at a location along Mather Drive. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

Initially considered a witness, Ramirez was named a “person of interest” Tuesday. She garnered additional suspicion after she changed her statements to police multiple times while being interviewed after the kidnapping, leading authorities to believe she knew more than she was letting on.

Police said they issued an endangered missing person alert to the public rather than an Amber Alert because they didn’t initially have vehicle information or a license plate. Once they had that information later in the search, authorities didn’t want to release details of the vehicle used in the kidnapping out of fear of tipping off the suspect, San Jose police Sgt. Christian Camarillo said. He also said police already knew about the suspect vehicle when the California Highway Patrol put out an alert Tuesday about a 2011 Silver Nissan Quest and then deleted it.

Chris Martinez, director of operations at Canyon Springs Post Acute Care, near the home where the baby was found, said his co-worker saw a gray Nissan parked outside their facility on Mather Drive at about 8 a.m. and realized it matched the description of a vehicle sought at one point by the CHP in connection with the kidnapping. His co-worker went to get a closer look at the car; after seeing an empty car seat inside, the co-worker called police, Martinez said.

A 37-year-old man was initially identified as a third suspect by San Jose police and arrested. San Jose police confirmed the man was to be released from custody Thursday, saying that details about his involvement in this case “have come to light” and he won’t be facing charges.