A Washington mother was arrested Thursday in California, more than a week after she and her partner fled their home before their twin babies and toddler son were to be taken into protective custody.
Erica Carey and Cleave Rengo claimed Child Protective Services intervened after the 29-year-old gave birth at their Bellingham home in October to a twin boy and girl, and their story went viral on social media and parenting websites.
The couple said they allowed paramedics to examine the newborns “to appease concerned family members,” according to the website Medical Kidnap, and they said social workers visited when they declined a recommendation to seek further medical evaluations.
Carey claims social workers became concerned because she treated her older son’s eczema with home remedies, instead of steroids.
“They wanted the authority in my household,” said her 23-year-old partner, Rengo. “I told them, ‘I’m a Christian and God gave me the authority in my household.’”
The couple, who conceived their first child hours after first meeting one another, has not applied for a marriage license but claims they made their vows before God.
CPS took all three children into protective custody shortly after that first visit to the one-bedroom apartment they share with Rengo’s father.
“Every time it’s like torment to my soul when they pull them away from my breasts,” Carey said of weekly supervised visits when the children were in custody. “Those are my babies, they’re our children — they have no right to them.”
The Medical Kidnap report, which was viewed more than 1 million times, suggests CPS removed the children over home birthing, holistic medicine, and possibly even breastfeeding — but prosecutors cited the family’s numerous contacts with law enforcement.
Prosecutors said law enforcement had encountered the couple 14 times since 2013, and an arrest warrant was issued for Rengo after he failed to complete court-ordered anger management as part of a plea agreement in a domestic violence case.
They also cited mental health issues for Rengo’s father, in addition to their concerns over the couple’s resistance to seeking medical care for their underweight babies and their 1-year-old son’s pneumonia.
Family court proceedings are not public, and CPS has not said why the second order was sought or granted.
The department previously said that home births are not considered a child safety risk and was not a factor in their removal.
The couple was not home when social workers arrived to serve the court order, and the children were listed as missing.
No warrant was issued for the couple’s arrest, saying the case was considered a civil violation of a court order and not a criminal kidnapping.
The couple was spotted this week in Santa Cruz, California, and police found them at a gas station Thursday afternoon.
They said the children were unharmed in the couple’s Hyundai Elantra, and police said Carey became combative when CPS workers came to take custody of the toddler and infants.
She head-butted a California Highway Patrol sergeant and kicked a sheriff’s deputy, authorities said, while screaming obscenities and begging Jesus for help.
“Send a message to America for me,” Carey told a TV news photographer. “Children don’t belong to the government. The government belongs to the people.”
Carey was charged with refusing to cooperate with law enforcement, resisting arrest, and battery on a peace officer. Rengo was not charged.
A CHP spokesman said he could understand why Carey was so upset, and he said officers attempted to comfort the children during the incident.
“We feel for their plight,” said Officer Brad Sadek, of CHP. “As often as we seem like machines following orders, it still can be emotionally jarring for us too.”
“We’re human beings,” he added. “Everyone out there has kids of their own. We wanted to make it as comfortable for those kids as we would want for our own kids.”
Watch this interview with the couple posted online by KING-TV: