Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
A handful of Valencia County community members came out for a candlelight vigil for Waylon Padilla, a one-month-old who was killed on Nov. 15. Some of those present were, from left, Kathy McCord, Jessa Cowdrey, Michael Vigil, Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil and vigil organizer Joan Day-Baker.

EL CERRO MISSION— Two weeks after the death of an infant stunned Valencia County, community members came together at a church in El Cerro Mission to offer support and resources to any parents needing services.

On the morning of Monday, Nov. 15, Waylon Padilla, was found dead in his bassinet at home on Clearview Drive in El Cerro Mission. Kiria Milton, his mother, made a frantic 911 call that morning, telling dispatchers there was a dead baby in her room.

Milton has been charged with intentional abuse of a child resulting in death, a first-degree felony, in connection to Waylon Padilla’s death.

A week prior, on Nov. 8, Milton called 911, telling first responders she didn’t want to hurt her children. Valencia County sheriff’s deputies contacted the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, concerned about Milton’s behavior. She was transported to an Albuquerque hospital for a mental evaluation.

In recorded conversations with a VCSO detective, the CYFD caseworker says a safety plan was not made for the family at the time of Milton’s hospitalization because she was under the impression Milton would be hospitalized for at least seven days, and a plan would be made after her release. She was released on Nov. 11, four days after she was admitted.

Waylon and his 4-year-old brother were with their father, since he was not the offending parent. He left for work out of the area two days after Milton was released. CYFD was not notified she was released earlier than expected, and the caseworker told investigators the father understood Milton was not to be left alone with her children.

Milton is in custody at the Valencia County Detention Center and will remain there until her trial. The 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office filed for her to be held on a no bond hold.

At a small gathering Sunday evening at Casa de Oracion, a church in El Cerro Mission, several people spoke about resources and support for parents available in Valencia County.

Joan Day-Baker, who organized the candlelight vigil, said she has worked with organizations focused on child advocacy since 2009, and she sees people struggling.

“There is a lot of hurt and sadness in the community,” Day-Baker said. “At the policy level, CYFD needs a complete reform of the children’s code. They see the issue, see what’s happening but they never go back to the code to see what changes in policy they could make to prevent the issue from happening again.”

Rev. Robert Mundy is the vicar at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Los Lunas, but wears many other hats that connect him to youth and families throughout the county. He is the chairman of the Juvenile Justice Board, the vice president of the Community Wellness Council’s board of directors, president of the Valencia County DWI Council and is on the board of the Los Lunas Rotary Club.

“We, as a community, missed the mark,” Mundy said of Padilla’s death. “If you look at the Christian Bible, Jesus talks about there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. He did. There’s a saying that many have forgotten — if you want to make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Jesus.”

Laura Cano, the wife of Pastor Raul Cano at Casa de Oracion, said she and her husband want to help the community heal.

“This is the first step in keeping our neighbors and community safe. Our church has been here for 25 years,” Laura Cano said. “We can help if we have the resources. This could have been prevented. She reached out to the right department. It’s not for me to judge what happened after but she reached out.”

A former member of the Community Wellness Council, Noelle Chavez said as a community, we need to be doing more.

“I live in Rio Communities, have a business in Belen but I am a resident of Valencia County. We are all members. We can’t continue to separate communities just because they seem far,” Chavez said.

If people are struggling, looking for help and resources, Chavez said the CWC’s community recourse directory is available at communitywellnesscouncil.org. The downloadable spreadsheet contains resources for everything from food and housing to mental health for families, youth and the elderly.

Another way to connect to local resources is to dial 211, she said. Callers will reach a live person or can leave a message for a call back, Chavez said. It’s not an emergency line, but English and Spanish speaking operators can help community members find resources and get them on the right path to help.

“We each have a part to play. We are all Valencia County community members,” Chavez said.

Saying no one wants people to intrude into their lives, Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil said people need to be open to letting people help them.

“We have to put our hand out and help them get to the right places, the right resources,” Vigil said. “I hope, as a community and a county, we can come together and do things better.”

Jessa Cowdrey, vice president for CHI St. Joseph’s Children and a resident of Valencia County, encouraged families and new parents to take advantage of the organization’s free home visiting program, which can be done in person at the family’s home or by telehealth using a phone or video conferencing.

“There are so many tears — for his 4-year-old brother, Mr. Padilla and Ms. Milton,” Cowdrey said.

A mother of a 2-year-old son herself, Cowdrey said she was amazed by the birth of her son, realizing he came from her and was a part of she and her husband.

“I love him, so I love myself,” Cowdrey said. “And how hard is it to love ourselves? We have to lean into love, spread love around and have as much readily available.”

The free home visits from CHI St. Joseph’s Children not only help families through the ups and downs of being first-time parents, but help connect them with other resources, whether it’s counseling, an exercise program, anything the family needs.

Access to the program is not based on the socioeconomic status of the family.

“The parents can both be doctors or a single dad,” she said. “This is for everyone.”

During home visits, the mother takes part in mental health screenings, something Cowdrey has undergone several times herself during her own home visits in the last two years.

“They ask these very deep questions and they ask everyone so they get an idea of what help a family needs,” she said. “Parents should have a home visitor with them on this journey.”

For more information about the home visitor program, visit mybabynm.org or call 505-924-8000.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.