Calif. man suspected of drowning 4-year-old daughter in church baptismal pool

HEALDSBURG, Calif. -- A Northern California man was arrested on suspicion of drowning his 4-year-old daughter in a baptismal pool in a church and then carrying her body to a nearby police station, authorities said Monday.

Gerardo Mendoza, 42, of Healdsburg, stood naked in the station’s back parking lot Sunday night and yelled for help as he held his fully clothed, soaking wet daughter. His partially clothed, 9-year-old son stood next to him, said Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke.

The three had just been at Healdsburg’s St. John the Baptist Catholic Church before heading to the police station, Healdsburg Lt. Matt Jenkins said.

The child was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy has been scheduled to determine the cause of death, but investigators believe she drowned, he said.

Authorities said the church is routinely left unlocked and has a sanctuary pool that is at least a foot deep.

“Sunday night there was tragedy in the church; a little girl lost her life,” Fr. Sean Rogers, pastor of the church, said on a statement posted on the Santa Rosa Diocese’s website. “When police finish the investigation we will know more. In the meantime, please pray for the family, and the parish community.”

Crime scene investigators with the state department of justice were called to help evaluate the scene for Healdsburg police because of staffing limitations, Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke said.

“It’s a very complicated investigation. We’ve had staffing up all night,” Burke said. “It’s a very challenging and tragic case.”

Police took a detailed statement from Ordaz, who lived with the children’s mother. They also took a detailed statement from the mother, CBS San Francisco reported. The family lives in unincorporated Sonoma County near Healdsburg, Burke said.

“We cannot disclose a motive at this time, but we determined it was not accidental,” Burke said.

Police served a search warrant on the family’s home, Burke said, and he is not aware of any domestic violence related calls for service at the home.

The last homicide in Healdsburg was in December 2008, Burke said.

“This is very unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it in my career,” Burke said.

Ordaz explained why he was at the church, but Burke said he could not disclose that information.

Sonoma County Superior Court records show Ordaz was convicted of disturbing the peace by fighting in public in Healdsburg on June 4, 1998. He pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to credit for time served, CBS SF reported.

Ordaz also pleaded guilty to a felony burglary in Healdsburg that occurred on July 11, 1996. He was sentenced to three years’ probation and one year in jail with 188 days credit for time served.

He violated his probation by failing to report to a probation officer, and was sentenced on July 30, 1998 to two years in prison on the burglary charge and another offense.

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