Our soldiers fighting overseas have a lot to worry about. Their safety, the safety of their fellow troops, the safety of their country, and most importantly, the safety of their loved ones at home.
For Sergeant Steven Garcia, his time in Seoul was made easier by knowing that when he got home, a little baby would be waiting for him. He and his wife, Marina, were expecting their first child together and he could not be more excited.
Sgt. Garcia, a 24-year-old US Army Sergeant, patiently waited for his wife to give birth in Arizona, but when his sister called, the news was not good.
Sgt. Garcia's sister told him that Marina had delivered a baby girl, but the little one had died during childbirth.
"When my sister called me about that, it was pretty emotional," Sergeant Garcia recently told Tuscon's News 4. "We cried quite a bit together over the phone. It was devastating."
But little did Steven Garcia know, his child was alive...and not only that, he had been sold to another family.
Trust me, this will all make sense. Or at least as much sense as it can, the case is pretty wild. The first piece of information you need to know is that the baby was in fact a boy, not a girl like Steven Garcia had been told.
While Garcia was waiting the birth of his first child, Marina Garcia was looking for a way out.
"The only thing on her mind was getting rid of this child. This 'problem' in her life," Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre said recently. "What scares me is that if it hadn't been the Hernandez', if the couple hadn't been willing to step forward, then what person off the Internet might have been next?"
Marina decided that her only way to get rid of the baby was to sell it, so she found a couple via Facebook that would take it. Alex and Leslie Hernandez, a couple in Texas, agreed to buy the baby for an undisclosed price.
Three days after the baby was born and handed off, the Hernandezes were pulled over for going 90 miles an hour down Interstate 10 in Arizona. There were three people inside the car: Alex, Leslie, and a newborn baby boy.
Police were suspicious of the "family" and began asking questions. That's when the couple admitted that this baby wasn't theirs at all. They confessed to police that they had "conspired with the birth mother to forge the signature as the father to take possession of the infant child"
After searching their phones, police found communications through both text and Facebook Messenger confirming this story.
Upon hearing that Marina Garcia had organized the sale of her child, police paid her a visit (obviously.) She was living with a boyfriend, an Army specialist, and admitted to agreeing to sell her child to the Hernandezes.
Marina did claim, however, that her plan was to go to Texas after recovering from birth in order to sign away her parental rights.
But what about Steven Garcia's parental rights? Where does he lie in all this?
According to Marina Garcia, her husband Steven was not the father of this baby, and she didn't know who was. All she could say was that it was certainly not Steven's.
"It's unknown," she told local news.
Steven Garcia filed for divorce from Marina after a paternity test proved he was not the father.
“I was under the assumption the entire time that she was pregnant that I was the father,” Steven Garcia told KVOA. “When I found out I wasn’t, I was pretty upset. I was kind of in denial. I couldn’t believe what was going on.”
Steven Garcia was contacted by investigators while he was still in South Korea, letting him know that the baby was in fact alive. He took an emergency leave to visit this baby, who is named Leo. Leo is currently in foster care
Despite not sharing any DNA with little Leo, Steven is fighting for custody to keep him. Garcia himself was adopted, and he wants Leo to know the same kind of love. He has already visited the newborn eight times, and he is planning on petitioning the courts to keep him.
“My adopted father completely changed my life,” Garcia said. “Without him I would not be where I am today, and for the opportunity to do that for someone else, I believe it’s important. It could change the child’s life and give him a better future, and I believe that’s the right thing to do.”
Almost $12,000 has been raised to help Garcia pay for court fees and travel to keep Leo via a GoFundMe page.
While it may seem impossible for Garcia to win custody of a child that is not his, it's not out of the question. Under certain circumstances, a non-biological parent can be considered a legal parent if "the child was born during your marriage to the mother." This is the case for Steven and Leo.
That being said, if the biological father of Leo comes forward and is deemed to be a fit parent for him, Steven could have no ground to stand on.
Let's not forget that three people were involved in what was essentially a high-stakes kidnapping scheme.
Alex Hernandez, Leslie Hernandez, and Marina Garcia each face one count of kidnapping, fraudulent schemes, conspiracy, and fraud by concealment.
Alex pleaded guilty to forgery in April, having signed Leo's birth certificate as through he was Leo's father. Leslie pleaded guilty to one count of fraudulent schemes. Their other charges were dropped, and they were given four years of supervised probation.
As for Marina Garcia, she pleaded guilty to a felony count of an attempted fraudulent scheme for forging the birth certificate. She will be sentenced in June. She could be facing time in prison, but her lawyer is contesting that recommendation so the sentencing has been pushed back.