Originally published in The Miami Herald
By: Charles Rabin
Paola Vargas-Ortiz has spent the past four weeks at a mental-health facility, ever since police found her infant son dead in a freezer at her father’s Homestead home.
On Thursday, Miami-Dade homicide detectives visited the clinic and she was released into their custody. Vargas-Ortiz, 37, was escorted to jail. She has been charged with killing 4-month-old Hugo. Investigators determined that he died from a lack of oxygen and had a piece of cotton stuffed high in his nostril.
After checking in to the Turner Guilford Knight correctional facility on a charge of manslaughter, a judge let Vargas-Oritz go home. She will remain under house arrest as long she is supervised by a family member.
“This case presents significant mental-health issues that we plan to litigate in court,” said her attorney Sam Rabin.
The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office declined to comment on the case.
The gruesome nature of Hugo’s death last month and his mother’s meltdown shocked law enforcement and grabbed the public’s attention.
According to police, it was a little before 3 p.m. on Jan. 17 when Vargas-Ortiz dialed 911 from somewhere along the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys and told the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that she was going to commit suicide.
Then she hung up.
Police scrambled to Marathon and, using the GPS from her cellphone, found Ortiz-Vargas about 70 yards from the north end of the bridge. She said she was depressed and that she had ingested rat poison. She told police she had tossed Hugo into the chilly waters below.
Then she led them to her blue 2011 Ford Escape. Inside the vehicle, police noticed a baby seat and children’s toys. Pressed about the infant, Vargas-Ortiz began to cry, police said, and said, “I think I need a lawyer.”
A brief search of the waters under the bridge by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission was called off after Vargas-Ortiz changed her story and told police Hugo was home in Homestead being cared for by family.
Then she changed that story, telling Monroe Sheriff’s Deputy Rosa DiGiovanni, “I was bathing it (Hugo) and it slipped out of my hands,” the report says.
The Miami-Dade medical examiner has not issued a formal report yet but did not find water in the baby’s lungs.
Police said distraught family members searching for Vargas-Ortiz called her cellphone. An officer answered it. Her brother wanted to speak with his sister or his nephew. Monroe County Deputy Rosa DiGiovanni said he told Vargas-Ortiz’s brother “that I could not say anything but that he could go and ask police at his house.”
By then, Monroe County cops had already called Homestead police, who raced to the family home at the Isle of Oasis, a walled-in subdivision. Inside, they found Hugo tucked away in the freezer, dead.