A nanny is accused of child abuse, then disappears.
Maria Rosa Hernandez
Weight: 130 lbs.
Defining Characteristics: Speaks broken English and has what appears to be burn scars on her right upper forearm.
On July 5, 1990, paramedics rushed 4-year-old Ashley Berman into a Los Angeles emergency room. She was unconscious and barely breathing. A short time later, the doctor made a shocking accusation–Ashley had been physically assaulted by her nanny.
Ashley’s mother, Sharon Berman, was in a state of disbelief:
“I looked at him and said ‘No way.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about… Rosa would never hurt Ashley.’ She took care of her. We had neighbors that would see Rosa and Ashley at the park. They would call me up and tell me how lucky I was to have somebody like Rosa. I did not believe him.”
Mug shot: Maria Hernandez
The Bermans had met Rosa Hernandez in 1988, when she applied to be the live-in nanny for 2-year-old Ashley. According to Ashley’s father, Jeff, Rosa was highly recommended by various neighbors:
“One neighbor that she worked for a couple of years beforehand, who swore by her… said she was wonderful and she would be perfect to… watch our daughter and that she had experience with kids and… very good at what she did.”
Jeff remembered how well Ashley responded to her new nanny:
“When we brought Ashley down to meet her, Ashley seemed to connect very well, as well as Rosa connected with Ashley. So I felt that this was definitely going to work out, and that she would be good with Ashley.”
The next week, Rosa Hernandez moved in with the Bermans. According to Sharon Berman, the two were immediately inseparable:
“Ashley seemed to be very fond of Rosa. She always wanted to buy things for Rosa. She’d always talk about Rosa. She always wanted, you know, to make Rosa be happy and feel happy.”
Maria Rosa Hernandez
For a year, everything went well. Then, Sharon started noticing bruises on Ashley’s body:
“Every time we asked Ashley what happened, how did you get this, she’d always tell us it happened at school, that she hurt her hand on the swing, that a little boy hit her with a shovel… another child hit her with a Barbie.”
But in February of 1990, it happened at home. Ashley needed several stitches from a deep gash on her head. According to Rosa, Ashley had been periodically blacking out and experiencing seizures. Although Jeff Berman never witnessed an episode himself, he feared his daughter had developed a serious physiological disorder:
“We put Ashley through all kinds of tests. We put her through cat scans, MRIs, which were very difficult to get a 4 ½ -year-old child into an MRI. With all the tests, they could find absolutely nothing that related that she had any tendency really toward seizures. All indications was that she was a very healthy child.”
A few months later, Jeff came home early from a walk to find that his very healthy child had once again been severely injured:
“Rosa proceeded to tell me that Ashley had fallen down. She was wearing some shoes and she tripped and she fell down. And I felt comfortable that she had just fallen. I saw the shoes. The shoes were on the kitchen floor. When the scene was re-enacted by Ashley, it all made sense.”
Cause of death was changed to homicide
Then just nine days later, Ashley had a frightening brush with death. Sharon Berman remembered rushing Ashley to the emergency room:
“I thought Ashley was going to die on us. I mean, I just looked at her–she was all pale, hooked up–and I thought we were going to lose her. And, pretty much, we were told if she survived, if she lived, she’d more than likely be retarded or blind or both.”
Dr. Frank Gillingham remembered treating Ashley:
“After I examined Ashley, I was suspicious that Ashley might have been abused. She had some small hemorrhages in the retina. This is a condition that’s associated with shaken baby syndrome.”
Dr. Gillingham decided to check into Ashley’s medical history and phoned her pediatrician:
“It wasn’t until I spoke with Ashley’s pediatrician that we made a connection to a prior case where the same caregiver had been involved in taking care of a child who died of what they thought might be child abuse.”
Maria with Ashley
For the Bermans, it was a shocking piece of news. Two years earlier, Dr. Gillingham had treated a 17-month-old boy who was rushed to the hospital in a state of full cardiac arrest:
“We were able to resuscitate the child. The child was subsequently admitted to the hospital, but then died within the next, I think, 17 or 18 hours.”
That day, the toddler had been in the care of Rosa Hernandez. An autopsy revealed that the boy had a fractured skull and internal bleeding. His death was ruled a homicide. Now with Ashley fighting for her life, police believed they had a case against Hernandez. She was charged with child abuse and murder.
Ashley remained in the hospital for a week. Eventually, she made a full recovery. With the experience behind her, Ashley spoke about Rosa Hernandez:
“She used to push me down the steps. I would hide her remote control to get her back, and so she took silverware and hit my nails. And she would also take her earrings and poke them through my nails. And she would bang my head against the walls, the doors, and the wood floors.”
Hernandez pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. Despite protests from the Bermans, she was released on her own recognizance and promptly disappeared.
Maria Rosa Hernandez is from El Salvador. She is 5’4″ tall and weighs approximately 130 pounds. Hernandez speaks broken English and has what appears to be burn scars on her right upper forearm.
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season nine with Robert Stack and in season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.
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