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Soldier Fights for Custody of Baby He Thought Died at Birth

Photograph by GoFundMe

When Army Sgt. Steven Garcia received news that his baby girl had died during childbirth, he was devastated. The 24-year-old from Arizona, now stationed in South Korea, grieved a baby he never got to meet for a month before he found out the truth.

The truth? The baby was a boy, he wasn't Steven's biological son and he wasn't born until February 2, a few weeks after Garcia received the heartbreaking call. To make matters worse, his wife, 31-year-old Marina Garcia, had given the baby up to her longtime friend Leslie Hernandez and Leslie's husband, Alex.

"I was under the assumption the entire time that she was pregnant that I was the father. When I found out I wasn't, I was pretty upset—I was kind of in denial. I couldn't believe what was going on," Steven told News 4 Tucson.

On February 5, Alex and Leslie were driving from Arizona back home to Texas with the newborn when they were pulled over by an Arizona highway patrolman for speeding at about 90 miles per hour. Noticing the couple seemed nervous, the trooper questioned them and learned that the Hernandezes weren't the biological parents of the infant. After further interviews by officers, the couple admitted Alex had signed the baby's birth certificate as the father. According to Department of Public Safety reports, the couple "conspired with the birth mother ... to forge the signature as the father to take possession of the infant child."

Leslie said she communicated with Marina, who doesn't know who the biological father is, over text, phone call and Facebook messenger. The county attorney said there is no evidence that money changed hands.

Alex and Leslie Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit forgery and received four years of supervised probation. Marina has pleaded guilty to attempted fraudulent scheme, a felony count that prosecutors hope will get Marina sentenced to prison next month.

Now, Steven is trying to fight for custody of the baby boy, Leo, who is currently in foster care. Steven's cousin set up a GoFundMe after Steven, who himself was adopted, was granted emergency leave and flew home with his savings, filed for divorce and hired a lawyer for the custody battle.

"My adopted father completely changed my life," Steven told News 4 Tucson. "Without him, I would not be where I am today. And for the opportunity to do that for someone else, I believe it's important. It could change the child's life and give him a better future, and I believe that's the right thing to do."

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