Tex Ortiz exits the office of District Judge Leonard HRomyak in Penn Hills after being held for court on charges that he kidnapped his daughter of whom he had recently lost custody.
By Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Penn Hills police Officer Patrick Ford responded to a home last month to take a report of a missing 2-year-old girl, the girl’s grandmother gave him a phone number for the father, who had recently lost custody of her.
The officer dialed the number. There was no answer. He sent a text, and then someone called back. The officer asked where 2-year-old Jaleeyah Ortiz was.
“He advised me that he’s not going to answer that, but he will tell me that she’s in New York somewhere,” Officer Ford testified Monday during a preliminary hearing for 32-year-old Tex Ortiz of Wilkinsburg, who is charged with kidnapping his daughter, Jaleeyah.
The person on the other end of the phone said, “I’m not going to give my daughter to you or anyone else.”
The prosecution contends that person was Mr. Ortiz, who was ordered Monday to stand trial on charges of kidnapping, interfering with child custody and concealing the whereabouts of a child. The defense, however, questioned whether that caller was in fact Mr. Ortiz.
The officer pointed out that the phone number was given to him by Jaleeyah’s grandmother, Lori Clark.
“But you don’t know who it actually was?” defense attorney Jan Medoff asked.
“Right,” the officer said.
That call set off a roughly two-week search for Jaleeyah and her father that at times involved members of the FBI. A local team of officers specializing in child abductions was called into service.
“It took on a life of its own from there,” testified Kenneth Scanlon, Allegheny County police detective, the lead investigator on the case.
The detective said Mr. Ortiz “basically got rid of” one cell phone “because he found out that we were tracing his location. That happened a few times.”
Officers found Jaleeyah and her father at a house near Altoona, Pa., last Tuesday. Officers took Jaleeyah to her grandmother and officials took Mr. Ortiz to the Allegheny County Jail, where he is being held in lieu of $100,000 and on a detainer because police say he cut his electronic home monitoring bracelet before he fled with the girl. The monitoring stemmed from a drug case in Blair County.
Mr. Ortiz said Monday, as officials escorted him to a car for transport to the jail following his hearing, that the matter was a misunderstanding and he did not receive paperwork in his daughter’s custody case.
“Trying to protect my daughter — that’s all I was doing,” he said. “Daddy loves you, Jaleeyah.”
Jaleeyah’s mother died unexpectedly in October. Her grandmother filed for interim emergency custody, stating that she worried about the environment Mr. Ortiz provided for Jaleeyah. A hearing was scheduled for Dec. 19. Mr. Ortiz did not attend and said Monday that he did not receive notice of the hearing, although a docket entry indicates that it was delivered to him.
A judge granted Ms. Clark interim custody. Authorities allege Mr. Ortiz fled rather than give Jaleeyah to her.