A 35-year-old Merced mother didn’t want authorities to take away her newborn infant, police say, so she got into the maternity at Mercy Medical Center, stuffed the day-old boy into a duffel bag and sneaked out of the hospital.
Stephanie L. Belden cut a security monitor bracelet from the baby’s wrist Tuesday night so she could flee the hospital undetected, Merced Police Lt. Jay Struble said.
But it didn’t work.
Police said Merced County CPS had taken formal custody of the child around 3:30 p.m. that same day.
The child went missing between 7:25 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Officers were called at 7:36 p.m. and immediately went to Belden’s home in the 1900 block of I Street in Merced where they said they found Belden “hiding,” police said.
“She refused to answer the door, so, out of concern for the child’s safety, officers forced their way into the home,” Struble said
Belden, who has a lengthy criminal history in Merced County, was in custody at 7:58 p.m.
“Within 30 minutes, the child was reported missing and officers made the arrest and found the child — who was unharmed,” Struble said.
Police said it’s unclear whether the infant has been given a name.
Belden was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of kidnapping, child stealing, child endangerment and a county-parole violation, according to jail records. She remained in custody Friday without bail.
Belden appeared briefly in court Friday morning. She pleaded not guilty to all charges, according to Merced County Superior Court records. She is due back in court Wednesday.
It wasn’t immediately clear Friday why CPS had taken custody of the child prior to the alleged kidnapping.
Belden has a lengthy criminal history in Merced County. She has been in and out of custody numerous times since at least 2013 on a string of mostly drug and theft-related cases, according to jail and court records.
Belden made headlines in 2015 in Merced after police said she escaped from the back of a California Highway Patrol car while handcuffed. She’d initially been arrested on suspicion of driving a stolen car, authorities said. Belden was captured a few weeks later, allegedly driving another stolen car on Beachwood Drive on the outskirts of Merced.
Her attorney could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482