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Mom hopes to bring daughter home

June 18, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY— Dolores Hidalgo will always remember April 1991. That's when her nightmare started, when a piece of who she was disappeared.

That's when the most important person in her life, her 2-year-old daughter, Mary Esther Flores, was stolen.

The alleged kidnapper? Her husband of two years, Jose Esteban Flores.

The couple had been married for two years, and just six months prior to the day Mary was taken, Hidalgo had helped her husband obtain immigration papers.

He took Mary as Hidalgo was in the shower, leaving only a note stating Hidalgo needed to change and he hoped her parents would forgive him.


When Hidalgo found the note, the world she had known crumbled. That's when the panic started, when the search began and when the legal troubles that would keep her from taking back her daughter started.

"I was running around crazy," she said. "I was just screaming, ‘Where is my daughter?'"

What she didn't know then was it would be 10 years before she would be reunited with her daughter, who is now 13 years old, lives in Denver, reportedly doesn't speak English and knows little of her mother.

Hidalgo hopes to change that, and now, with the help of Brawley police Detective Greg Heath and the county victim/witness program, she is engaged in a legal battle to win back her daughter.

The Brawley Police Department is preparing to seek charges of kidnapping against Jose Esteban Flores to have him arrested and returned to the Imperial Valley.

Attempts to contact Flores, who is living in Denver with the daughter he took 10 years earlier and raised in Mexico, apparently with the help of family members, were unsuccessful.

Hidalgo was interviewed recently at the Brawley Police Department with Heath, who has become a champion of Hidalgo's cause.

"He listened to the story I had to tell," Hidalgo said. "He's trying to do something. I appreciate that after 10 years, he took the time to hear my story."

It's a story of a woman who tried everything she knew to find and reclaim her daughter.

In 1991 she filed a complaint with the Brawley Police Department, but there was little the department could do other than attempt to work with authorities in Mexico.

According to Heath, Flores' family had some clout in Mexico and used that to their advantage, going so far as to file a complaint of child abandonment and child abuse against Hidalgo in Torreòn, Mexico.

Hidalgo said the complaint was baseless, adding the only time she was away from her daughter was when she went to work in the fields, and at those times she left Mary with her sister. Hidalgo also said she could never abuse her child.

Heath said that Flores was able to file a complaint was unusual in that he had never lived in Torreòn with Hidalgo, so he should not have been able to file any complaint in Mexico.

Hidalgo in the early 1990s made two trips to Torreòn in an effort to find her husband and daughter. During the first trip she could not get past his family.

By the time she made the second trip, Hidalgo had hired a private investigator from Mexicali who had tracked down her husband. As a result she was allowed to see her daughter from a distance through a fence.

However, Hidalgo discovered her husband had filed the complaint against her. Still, Hidalgo remained in Torreòn for a month, trying to see her daughter, but with no money and little recourse she came home again empty-handed.

Hidalgo didn't give up. She placed an ad in a newspaper in Torreòn stating her daughter had been kidnapped. She ran a picture of her daughter in that ad.

Nothing changed, however, and when she tried to contact her husband one more time, she found he was no longer in Torreòn. In fact, she had no trace of him.

"I just prayed the Lord would take care of her," she said.

Life has gone on for Hidalgo. She has had two other children, a boy, age 10, and a girl, age 6. But there has always been a part of her life missing.

"There was no Christmas. My heart was not happy," she said.

There was one chance in 1994, Hidalgo said. Her husband filed for custody of their daughter in El Paso. Hidalgo said she went to El Paso and saw her husband in court, but their daughter was not there.

She said the judge had set a second hearing, but before that hearing took place, her husband dropped the case and went back to Mexico with their daughter.

Then, in 2001 came an unexpected visit to her parents' home in Brawley. It was Flores.

He told Hidalgo he was living with their daughter in Denver and he would give her one more chance to see her. But he said he was filing for permanent custody and child support, according to Hidalgo.

In September 2001, after saving money, Hidalgo and her two younger children went to Denver. Hidalgo said she didn't know what to expect. After all, she didn't know how her daughter was being raised, if she was healthy or even alive.

What she found in Denver eased her fears, at least a bit.

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