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Daughter unravels decades-old mystery of disabled mom's rape

Magdalena Cruz grew up knowing she owed her very life to a horrid crime.

She was born in 1986 to a mom who couldn't care for her, or for herself. For a decade, Cruz’s mother had been a resident of a state facility for severely disabled people in Rochester, New York. She was nonverbal. She was 30 but had the mental acuity of a 2-year-old, wore diapers and needed constant care. She couldn’t consent to sex, so when she was discovered to be pregnant, it was obvious she must have been raped.

Facility administrators told the woman’s family another resident was likely responsible and said they would file a police report and undertake an internal investigation.

Nearly four decades later, Cruz says she has solved the mystery of her father's identity herself, partly by using a mail-order DNA test and a popular genealogy database.

He was an employee of the facility, not a resident, according to a lawsuit she filed this week.

Moreover, Cruz also learned through her own sleuthing that no police report was ever filed, no employees were interviewed and no action was ever taken by administrators, the lawsuit said.

“The facts surrounding her birth were far more shocking and grotesque than her family had realized,” her lawyers wrote in the suit, filed against the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the state agency that oversees state-run facilities.

Criminal charges are no longer possible because of legal deadlines that long ago expired. The lawsuit was only possible because New York enacted a law last year temporarily setting aside the statute of limitations for litigation over sexual assaults from long ago.

Cruz's search for her birth story began about four years ago. Her lawyers said she started by requesting records from municipalities and the state regarding her mother's care. She received progress notes from her mother's time at Monroe Developmental Center, which revealed a series of injuries before and during the pregnancy — a bite mark on her breast, cross-shaped bruise on her shoulder blade, a 9-inch (23-centimeter) abrasion on her back, the lawsuit said.

“Likes men of color, strips, sometimes yells, jumps, eats very fast,” wrote one caretaker — the man Cruz now believes to be her father.

Infuriated by what the records had shown, Cruz undertook genetic testing through Ancestry.com and matched with biological relatives on her father’s side in Virginia. She scoured photos of the family online. One of them showed a girl whose eyes resembled her own. She identified the girl’s father and found through searching online that he had lived in Rochester, not far from the Monroe Developmental Center, at the time of her birth.

In 2019, she brought her findings to police, who confirmed the man had worked at the facility but said too much time had passed to bring charges.

In the 1980s, the family had no idea the Monroe Developmental Center, which was closed by the state in 2013, had multiple incidents of resident abuse.

At least 10 staff members had been identified as pedophiles and rapists from 1976-1985, including supervisors, security guards and volunteers. A number of residents had died under unusual circumstances, including a 21-year-old quadriplegic patient whose body temperature spiked when he was left outside in the sun for four hours without fluids, the lawsuit said. Another resident died after swallowing five surgical gloves.

Cruz’s mother, referred to in the lawsuit as I.C., is living in a different facility today. The Associated Press does not identify people who have been sexually assaulted unless they consent to being named.

"She can’t even speak to say what happened to her, and if not for the pregnancy, we would never, ever know,” one of her lawyers, Susan Crumiller, said Tuesday. “And even if not for her daughter’s investigation, we still would never know about the institutional cover up.”

After the pregnancy, the records showed facility administrators suggested birth control for I.C.

Crumiller, who brought the case along with with attorney Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer for abuse survivors, said birth control “would have no purpose other than hiding continued abuse, given that she did not and never will have the mental capacity to consent.”

In a statement, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities said that while it could not comment on pending litigation, “the safety and well-being of the people we support is OPWDD’s highest priority.”

The man Cruz identified as her father is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. He could not immediately be reached for comment. Phone listings in his name were disconnected.

“We’ll probably never know how many other patients were raped at this facility, how many times our client was raped, how many other rapists there were,” Crumiller said, “and that’s because the facility covered up the abuse.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Until 2006, criminal charges were barred in rape cases in New York unless they were made within five years of the offense. New York lawmakers then abolished the statute of limitations for first-degree rape, but those changes were not retroactively applied to old crimes.

New York lawmakers in 2019 also extended the statute of limitations in cases of second-degree and third-degree rape, with the deadlines now ranging from 10 to 20 years, depending on the specifics of the crime.

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Thompson reported from Buffalo, N.Y.