Seeking answers in 23-year-old child abduction case

Seeking answers in 23-year-old child abduction case
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- The three-year-old girl was playing hide-and-seek with her five siblings in their fenced yard on the 400 block of Washington Street in east Bakersfield at around 3 p.m.

But when the siblings called out her name, there was no response.

Deisy Herrera had disappeared without a trace. Vanished. The date was Dec. 28, 1987.

For more than 23 years, Deisy has never been seen since, and the case remains unsolved.

The Kern County Sheriff's Department has listed her disappearance as a "stranger abduction" case. Questions persist about what happened to the 3-year-old who was no bigger than 3 feet and 40 pounds with brown eyes. She was described as being shy around people she did not know. Easy prey for someone bent on kidnapping a child.

Her mother has never quite recovered.

"It's been hell," said Deisy's mother, Eva Hernandez who suffers from depression, diabetes and other health ailments. "When children die, you bury them and you know where you can go see them. But this? I'm left wondering whatever happened to her."

Hernandez herself for not being at home at the time of her daughter's disappearance. She was out on an errand and discovered the tragedy upon her return.

"Maybe this would have never happened if I had paid more attention, but I never thought something like this would happen to me," she said.

News accounts report the initial search for Deisy consisted of sheriff's deputies using K-9's, combing the neighborhood and surrounding communities as more than 200 tips came in and were checked out. Hernandez was not married to Deisy's father, Jose Luis Herrera, and they didn't live together. In fact, they had an estranged relationship. The father eventually moved to Zacatecas, Mexico. Sheriff's investigators expanded the search for Deisy into Mexico but found nothing.

What happened to Deisy would unfortunately repeat itself within a few years to other little girls in the Central Valley.

In 1991, four years after Deisy's case, 4-year-old Jessica Martinez was abducted while also playing in front of her home in southwest Bakersfield. Jessica's body was later found buried in a cotton field. The crime remains unsolved.

In 1994, 10-year-old Angelica Ramirez of Hanford disappeared from a swap meet in Visalia, and her strangled body was found in a canal. Her unidentified killer remains at large.

And in 1995, 8-year-old Maria Piceno, also of Hanford, was abducted while walking to a grocery store to buy a can of tuna. Her body was found in bushes along Poso Creek in Kern County. Navy Petty Officer Gene McCurdy, 35, of Wasco was convicted for the murder of Maria. He is on death row.

At one point, McCurdy was considered a suspect in Deisy's case, but there wasn't enough evidence to tie him to the case, sources familiar with the investigation said. Investigators detained several individuals for questioning, but no one was ever arrested.

Though her case remains open, there are no leads, making the case inactive, said sheriff's department spokesman Ray Pruitt.

That bothers Hernandez. Looking back, Hernandez wishes she would have pressured investigators more.

"I waited like a fool for them to come to me. I never thought of going out and doing something," said Hernandez.

In a newest development, a couple of retired Kern County sheriff's deputies familiar with the case have taken an interest in Deisy's disappearance.

They plan to revisit the case, check for missing clues and complete an "age progression" photograph of Deisy who would have been 27 this May. The chance she might still be alive, however slim, is not being ruled out.

"Sometimes at night, I ask God about her," Hernandez said. "What else can I do?"

Eyewitness News Reporter Jose Gaspar is a contributing columnist with the Bakersfield Californian. This story was reposted with the paper's permission.