A Healdsburg father was arrested Sunday on suspicion of drowning his 4-year-old daughter at a baptismal font at a church as his young son watched, police said. He was found in the parking lot afterward, police said, naked and holding his limp daughter in his arms.
Gerardo Mendoza Ordaz, 42, was with his daughter and his 9-year-old son at St. John the Baptist Church at 208 W. Matheson St. on Sunday evening, which was left unlocked, according to investigators. Police believe Ordaz intentionally drowned his daughter in the church's baptismal font, a shallow pool of water, before he carried her to police headquarters and began screaming for help.
Ordaz was heard yelling for police in the back lot of the Healdsburg Police Department around 8:30 p.m., Lt. Matt Jenkins said. No motive was given, and Ordaz's mental state was not fully discussed.
When officers responded, they found Ordaz naked, holding the unresponsive girl, and medical responders began CPR. The girl was taken to a hospital, where she was later pronounced dead, Jenkins said. Police also said Ordaz was married and had three other children, including the boy that he brought with him.
Police said after Ordaz drowned the girl, he ran about 75 yards from the church to the police parking lot, carrying her in his arms.
"He was naked at the time our staff encountered him," Police Chief Kevin Burke said. "He was screaming for help as he arrived."
No one answered the phone at the church. The Diocese of Santa Rosa released a statement attributed to Rev. Sean Rogers, the church's pastor: “Sunday night there was tragedy in the church; a little girl lost her life. When police finish the investigation we will know more. In the meantime, please pray for the family, and the parish community."
An autopsy will determine the cause of the girl's death, but investigators believe she drowned, Jenkins said. The water in the baptismal font is about a foot deep, Burke said.
Ordaz was arrested for homicide and is being held under no bail in the Sonoma County jail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Sonoma County Superior Court.
"Based on his lengthy statement and other evidence, we determined that he was responsible, and we placed him under arrest," Burke said. "We cannot disclose a motive at this time, but we determined it was not accidental."
Ordaz's relatives said he and the two children left home Sunday without an explanation. His wife and two other children remained at home. The family said they did not know he was going to the church.
It was the first homicide in Healdsburg in eight years, and neighbors were stunned.
"I don't know what to say. It's surreal," Jesse Bushnell said. "He must be mentally ill to do something like that."
Kelsey Brown and Tegan Wilson dropped off flowers and a votive candle at the church in memory of their lively little neighbor.
"We would see all the kids playing on the street, so it's quite emotional," Brown said.
Sonoma County Superior Court records show Ordaz was convicted of disturbing the peace by fighting in public in Healdsburg on June 4, 1998. He pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to credit for time served.
Ordaz also pleaded guilty to a felony burglary in Healdsburg that occurred on July 11, 1996. He was sentenced to three years' probation and one year in jail with 188 days credit for time served.
He violated his probation by failing to report to a probation officer and was sentenced on July 30, 1998, to two years in prison on the burglary charge and another offense.
Bay City News and NBC Bay Area's Terry McSweeney contributed to this report.