Image: Police officer at parking structure in Orange, Calif.
Cindy Yamanaka  /  Zuma Press
A police officer surveys the parking structure at Children's Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif. on Monday. Sgt. Dan Adams said the infant fell from the second story or higher.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/23/2011 7:22:14 PM ET 2011-08-23T23:22:14

A Southern California mother accused of tossing her 7-month-old son from the fourth floor of a hospital parking structure was arrested after she returned to the scene four hours later, a police spokesman said Tuesday.

Sonia Hermosillo, 31, of La Habra was arrested Monday night, hours after the baby was thrown over a parking structure railing at Children's Hospital of Orange County, Orange police Sgt. Dan Adams said.

The infant remained in critical condition Tuesday at the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center, which has a trauma unit.

Hermosillo, who could make a first court appearance as early as Wednesday, was being held without bail for investigation of attempted murder and is undergoing a psychological evaluation in the jail's medical ward, said Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino. She was also on an immigration hold, he said.

No one answered the door Tuesday at the upstairs apartment where Hermosillo lives with her husband, two young daughters and infant son. A pair of pink child's flip flops, a sand pail and two Barbie dolls sat on the stoop in the hot sun.

Police have not released a motive and the Orange County district attorney's office declined to comment until they were able to review the case, said Farrah Emami, district attorney spokeswoman.

"Our investigators did tell me that they're certain she's the suspect and we're not looking for any other suspects," Adams said.

A witness on the ground saw the baby falling through the air just after 6 p.m. Monday and called 911, authorities said.

Surveillance video showed Hermosillo's tan Chevrolet Blazer sport utility vehicle with an empty child seat leaving the parking structure a short time later, the sergeant said. The female driver was the only person in the SUV, and the license plate was traced to the Hermosillo home.

Adams said that during the investigation, the La Habra Police Department notified detectives that a man had reported his wife, Sonia Hermosillo, and their son missing.

An Orange police officer driving past Children's Hospital at 10:15 p.m. spotted the Blazer driving on a street about 100 yards from the crime scene and Hermosillo was at the wheel, Adams said.

'She was different'
Police said Tuesday that Hermosillo was cooperating with the investigation. They declined to release any further details.

Sonia Herrera, 40, lives in the apartment directly below but said she knew Hermosillo before Hermosillo moved into the complex two months ago because their children attend the same elementary school.

She said Hermosillo was a normal, loving mother to her daughters and was excited to be pregnant with a son. But after the boy was born, the 31-year-old mother changed suddenly and seemed depressed, Herrera said. She withdrew and, while bubbly before, hardly talked at all.

"She was different. She was serious," Herrera said. "I asked her many questions, and she just said 'Yes' or 'No.'"

When she saw Hermosillo's picture on the news, she was shocked.

"I just wanted to cry, and I asked, 'Why? Why did this happen?'"

At a similar apartment complex less than two blocks away in a working-class neighborhood of single-story homes and 1960s-style apartment buildings, former neighbor Carmen Ruiz said she saw nothing wrong with Hermosillo. They spoke almost every day, she said, and Hermosillo was a stay-at-home mother to her two young daughters while her husband worked in construction.

The couple, both immigrants from Mexico City, didn't seem to fight and were friendly with neighbors, she said.

Hermosillo would walk her older daughter, who had just started kindergarten, to school each day.

"She was a nice person. I am in shock," said Cristina Madrigal, who manages the La Habra Terrace Apartments on a side street that joins up with a busy boulevard of strip malls, gas stations and businesses.

Court records in Orange County indicate Hermosillo has no major criminal record but pleaded guilty to four traffic violations in La Habra in 2008, including driving without a valid license and having no proof of insurance.

It's unclear whether the family had any connection to Children's Hospital before the incident, Adams said. A hospital spokeswoman referred all calls to police.

Baby blanket
Detectives were reviewing surveillance video to determine what happened and had locked down the garage to search for evidence. Video shot by a KCAL-TV news helicopter showed yellow police tape outside a garage gate where a baby blanket remained on the ground.

"It's a horrific crime," Adams said. "We obviously don't think this is an accident."

Calls to the UC Irvine Medical Center weren't immediately returned.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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