Police allege Irma Navarro was worried about her son getting into trouble. The 37-year-old is suspected of wrapping a chain around his legs and locking it to keep him from leaving their apartment while she was at work. Authorities said Navarro allegedly left the boy some food and video games.
"She thinks he may be getting into gangs and hanging out with the wrong crowd, possibly going to get involved in criminal activity, so apparently this was her last resort," said Cpl. Anthony Bertagna with the Santa Ana Police Department.
Some neighbors noticed the 10-year-old outside the apartment just before noon Thursday. Police allege his mother left him inside in his underwear and that he managed to pull jean shorts up over the chains with both his legs through one pant leg.
"He would hop, obviously because he couldn't walk and he would get tired, so he'd sit down and get back up. And then my mom asked him, 'Where are you going?' And he said, 'I'm going to my friend's house, so they can unlock me,'" said neighbor Katherine Reyes.
Witnesses say the boy hopped to a tree and was lying on the ground. A passerby noticed him and knocked on Jose Salinas' door to ask for help.
"He was on the ground and could definitely see a lot of fear in him, and he was crying," said Salinas. "He had the chains around his ankles. I even noticed his pants when they were on, it looked like one pant leg."
Salinas went to get bolt cutters as police arrived. Authorities say Navarro has two other children. An older one was in school and a younger child was with a babysitter.
Police said Navarro told officers she couldn't afford to pay for a babysitter for two children. Navarro was taken into custody on suspicion of willful cruelty to a child. All three of her children are now in protective custody.
"I'm a parent of three and I can't picture doing this to my kid. And honestly, it's a horrible way to punish any kind of child," said Salinas.
Bertagna said there are other alternatives, such as KidWorks, a program that helps at-risk children.
"Shackling your kid into a house left alone at 10 is a criminal act," said Bertagna.