In January 1985, the staff of Monroe Developmental Center outside Rochester, New York, were taking care of Ingrid when they noticed her right hand was bruised and swollen. As they examined further, they observed a “cross-shape” bruise on her left shoulder and an “abrasion” that stretched across her back for nine inches. A few months later, she wandered over to the nurse’s station with blood on her shirt. There was a cut on her head and, at shower time, staff spotted a two-inch bruise on her left hip. Within weeks, she had still more bruises. That October, staff found nail polish in her mouth and hair and on her face.
Ingrid, 31, couldn’t tell anyone what was wrong. With an IQ of less than 20, she had the intellectual acuity of a toddler and had been living in institutions like Monroe since she was 10 years old. Though the only verbal sounds she could make were “kee kee kee kee,” she was not silent about her distress, according to the facility’s records: She screamed into the night, stripped herself naked, and repeatedly attacked one male staff member, identified only as James. These outbursts “mostly” unfolded around men, one caretaker note signed “J.B.” said. In March 1986, a staff member noted she had what appeared to be a “bite” mark on her breast. She stopped having her period and in May 1986, an ultrasound revealed she was five months pregnant.
Monroe apparently went into crisis mode, with administrators calling Ingrid’s parents in for a meeting where they told them of the pregnancy and suggested they move her into a different residential program, purportedly to protect her from abusive patients. (Ingrid is a pseudonym to protect her identity as a victim of sexual assault.) The family remained “angry that the pregnancy happened at all and, furthermore, that it went undetected for five months,” as a note would later describe. On August 27, Ingrid gave birth to a happy, healthy baby girl named Magdalena Cruz. An internal investigation, meanwhile, made no headway: A note dated November 25, 1986, plainly reported that the paternity of her child was “still unknown.”
More than 30 years later, though, Cruz would pursue her own investigation, finding the man she believes is her mother’s rapist and suing on behalf of her mother against the state office that operated Monroe, in a novel use of a new law tailored to help survivors of sexual assault. “They just wanted to make it go away and didn’t care about her as a person,” Cruz said about how she felt and of her decision to pursue legal action.
Cruz said she never understood why her grandparents did not sue the facility. Maybe, as her family members said, they put their faith in Monroe’s investigation. Either way, by the time Cruz was a teenager, they moved Ingrid out of Monroe. When she turned 18, Cruz first tried to get the answers that eluded her family: Who was her mother’s rapist? Why wasn’t he in prison? She found an attorney, but he told her nothing could be done because the statute of limitations for criminal and civil action had passed. “I gave up,” she said. “It was too much for me to handle at that time.”
But the need for answers tugged at Cruz again years later when she became a mother. “I really had a desire to know who my father was because I was like, Man, I really want to look at my children and know where they get all their traits from and their looks from.” She even prayed to God: “‘I don’t even know if this is possible, but I know you make impossible things possible. I want to find him.’”
In 2013, it looked like the possible had arrived. That year, Cruz read a story about John Horace, who had violated parole after his release from prison for raping a comatose woman in a nursing home where he worked in 1995. Nine years after Cruz was born, the crime garnered worldwide attention as “the first known case in which a woman was impregnated and gave birth while in a comalike state,” according to the Associated Press. Horace was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison, and the woman known only as “Kathy” delivered a healthy baby boy before she died months later. “I’m thinking now, like, Oh, this could be my father,” Cruz said.
It took Cruz until 2019 to find the resolve to file public-records requests with the Brighton and Rochester police departments concerning her mother’s case. The Rochester police told her that Monroe had “never” reported the rape to them, according to Cruz’s lawsuit. So she did, and an investigator was assigned to the case. Meanwhile, records came back from the state’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), which ran Monroe until it closed in 2013.
A civil complaint alleges that Monroe claimed it would notify police, given Ingrid could not consent to sex, and promised an internal investigation to identify her rapist. In the meantime, according to court records, Monroe suggested Ingrid’s parents put her on birth control or consider tubal ligation.
After months of back and forth, Cruz did get the notes detailing Ingrid’s injuries. “I was livid,” Cruz said. “I read ‘tubal ligation,’ and I was like, What? Like, They don’t even care.” While one progress report from Monroe claimed officials made a timeline of events around the possible conception date, identifying people Ingrid was in contact with, Cruz’s lawsuit accuses Monroe of lying: “There never was an investigation, and there never was a police report … There were no remedial steps taken, no interviews taken of employees at the time, no sign of any records indicating that MDC took action as a result of I.C. being raped while in MDC’s care.”
As Cruz waited for the police to find her mother’s abuser, she did more amateur sleuthing. She contacted a woman who she said was Horace’s cousin on Facebook, who, in turn, connected her with a man who Cruz said was his son. “We started having a phone relationship, so he actually thought that I could be a sister because he knew the things that his father had done.” Horace’s son, Cruz said, agreed to a DNA test, but he didn’t go through with it. At the urging of her husband, Cruz still completed a test, sending a swab to Ancestry.com. “I did it thinking that I was just gonna get confirmation; I was gonna see Horace on the DNA.”
A few weeks later, she received test results from Ancestry.com: There was a paternal match, but it wasn’t Horace. Relatives of Cruz’s father — whoever he might be — lived in Virginia. She searched their names on Facebook and Google and found a web page for a family reunion. As they pored over photos, her husband flagged one of a man whom her lawsuit identifies as James Burrus. He was pictured with a woman who she says resembled her. “That’s him,” Cruz remembered thinking. It was the eyes and the dimples. “I just was able to put the pieces together.”
Through still more internet detective work, Cruz learned that he lived in Rochester, just a few miles from where Monroe had been. She excitedly sent Brighton police investigator Stephen Hunt the news of her test and side-by-side photos of Burrus, his daughter, and herself. “They all do resemble each other,” Hunt noted in his report, according to a copy, and he set off to interview Burrus that October.
When Hunt arrived at Burrus’s home with another detective, he greeted them at the door. Was he the same James Burrus who worked at the facility in 1985? “Yeah,” he said. Hunt showed him a picture of Ingrid, wearing a red sweater and seated next to a Christmas tree. Did he remember her? “Yeah, I think I do. She was a consumer there,” Burrus said. Did he have a relationship with her? “No.” Was he questioned about her pregnancy back then? Burrus allegedly said, “It was brought to us that some family or something was going on. That’s about it.” Hunt asked if he would take a DNA test. “He hesitated for some time and said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe I should get some legal whatever whatever,’” Hunt wrote in his report. (When asked for comment at his Rochester home in December, Burrus maintained his innocence.)
Just over a week after the interview, Hunt’s superiors ordered him to close the case, according to his report, because the criminal statute of limitations had already run out. Hunt contacted the local U.S. Attorney’s Office and told them about the investigation; a prosecutor said that he would get back to him, but the result was just the same as before: Since Monroe had not been a federal facility, they had no jurisdiction to investigate.
Ancestry.com did not return a request for comment, but the growing use of such genetic databases to track down suspected criminals has previously drawn criticism that it violates people’s privacy. A similar database was used by law enforcement to track down Joseph James DeAngelo, a.k.a. the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who was found when DNA left at crime scenes matched members of his extended family tree.
Around the same time Cruz set out to find her father, the Me Too movement led New York to revamp its laws concerning sexual abuse and extend the civil statute of limitations for lawsuits. Last November, the Adult Survivors Act went into effect, giving survivors a one-year look-back window to sue their abusers, as well as the institutions that enabled them, for acts outside the statute of limitations. Cruz retained victims’-rights attorneys Susan Crumiller and Carrie Goldberg, and on Monday filed suit in Monroe County, New York, court on behalf of her mother against OPWDD, which operated Monroe, alleging sexual assault and battery, negligence, and gender discrimination. (The agency declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.)
While Cruz’s lawsuit alleges “Burrus battered I.C. when he sexually assaulted her by forcibly touching her body and raping her,” she is not naming him as a defendant. Describing herself as a devout Christian, she said that would violate the commandment to honor her mother and father. “For many years, I’ve worked through not being angry at him, so I’m just not in a place now where I’m not seeking revenge,” she said. “I am not trying to convict him. I’m not opposed to him being convicted. I just don’t want to be the one to do it.” It’s enough, she added, to name him in the complaint.
And after growing up with her mother living in a facility, Cruz wants to move Ingrid under her own roof. Now 66, her mother is blind and has severe arthritis that has confined her to a wheelchair. Ingrid can’t eat solid food, and both her kidneys and memory are failing. “Maybe a couple of years ago, she would react to me. She knew, like, if they even said, ‘Maggie’s coming to see you,’ she’d get excited,” Cruz said. “Nowadays, they say she has dementia, which is hard to tell because she doesn’t speak, but she’s very not engaged, very out of it.”
What Cruz wants most from her lawsuit is to use any compensation to move into a home suitable for her mother’s needs and pay for in-home care. She never wants Ingrid to be cared for by strangers again.
“My main goal is to give her, in her remaining years, a better life,” Cruz said. “She’s really never known what it is to really grow up with her family.”