Where are the kids? Story 3

We asked women in prison what happened to their kids when they were arrested.


Yuryana Cornejo Tapia-Juarez

Three-year-old Elijah Blu Cornejo was playing in a park in Oak Cliff when the police arrived. They were there to arrest Mommy.

Before taking Yuryana Cornejo Tapia-Juarez to the Dallas County Jail on drug charges in February 2016, police allowed her to call her sister, asking her to pick up Elijah. Which she did — and then promptly turned him over to Child Protective Services.

What would happen to Elijah now?

The day after his mother’s arrest, social workers drove him to a nice home on a cul-de-sac to live with Abby and Matt, a couple who said in an interview that they view foster care as their Christian mission. They spoke to The News on the condition we not use their last name.

He was scared when he arrived, and cried out for Mommy. They told him that the Apostle Paul was once in prison, like his mom. “Is Mommy with Paul?” Elijah asked. In the backyard, he pretended to be arrested, clutching a Nerf ball behind his back as if he were wearing handcuffs.

Just because people make mistakes doesn’t mean they’re bad people, his foster parents told him. They tracked his mother down at her court-ordered drug treatment program and paid for phone calls between mother and son.

A year after Yuryana’s arrest, everyone suddenly wanted Elijah.

His foster parents. An old boyfriend who said he was the father (a DNA test proved him wrong, court records show). Yuryana’s aunt and uncle in Florida, Carmen and Isidro Soto.

Isidro installs flooring and paints houses; Carmen takes care of their sons, 12 and 17. They passed background checks and home visits, and traveled to Dallas several times for supervised visits and court hearings, according to court testimony.

Both the Sotos and the foster parents initially said Yuryana could remain part of Elijah’s life. She had trouble making up her mind who should get him.

Matt and Abby went to court seeking permanent custody that would end her parental rights. When the case went to trial this month, they paced the hallway outside the courtroom. Inside, Carmen sat with her hands folded in prayer. Yuryana never arrived —- jail officials blamed a paperwork error — so the pressed blue shirt and black dress pants Carmen brought for her lay slumped on a court bench.

The two sides were supposed to argue about Elijah’s best interest. But the foster parents’ lawyer failed to file a key document; the judge dismissed them from the case. Matt and Abby left the courthouse in tears and filed an appeal.

Carmen and Isidro were now Elijah’s guardians.

This meant another fast goodbye for Elijah, this time to his foster family. He sobbed as a social worker picked him up in a black Nissan, took him out for chocolate-chip ice cream, then dropped him off with Carmen and Isidro.

The Sotos left for Florida immediately. They wanted to take Elijah to the beach so he could wiggle his toes in the sand.

[This story was originally published by Dallas News.]