She Used a DNA Test to Identify Her Dad—and Her Mom’s Rapist

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Maggie Cruz always knew she was the product of rape.

Her mother, now 66 and living in a disability care facility in upstate New York, was developmentally delayed from birth, with an IQ that constituted “profound mental retardation,” according to a suit Cruz just filed. She could not form words or be toilet-trained and needed diapers. The very fact that she had become pregnant and given birth to Cruz indicated that something terrible had happened.

But Cruz did not know how terrible—until now.

According to the suit Cruz filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court, the man who raped and impregnated her mother was a caretaker at the facility where she lived, who had a direct hand in her care. The suit claims the facility never filed a police report or conducted an internal investigation, leaving Cruz to determine the identity of the attacker on her own—by conducting an DNA test.

“If Maggie hadn’t come to us and filed this lawsuit, no one ever would have known this happened,” her attorney, Susan Crumiller, told The Daily Beast. “It’s as in the shadows as you can get.”

Cruz first started looking into the circumstances around her birth four years ago, when she was 33, according to the suit. Until then, she knew only what the facility, Monroe Development Center, had told her grandparents: Her mother had been impregnated in 1985, likely by another patient, and was temporarily moved to another facility for her safety and for prenatal care. She returned to MDC shortly after Cruz’s birth and remained there another nine years, when she was moved to a private facility in Penfield, New York.

Cruz was raised by her grandparents and went on to marry and have five children of her own. But she often wondered about her father’s identity and struggled with the ambiguity around what had happened to her mother, Crumiller said. In 2019, she made a public records request, asking local law enforcement and the the regional developmental disability office for records related to her mother’s rape.

The request yielded numerous records about her mother’s care but no indication of an investigation into her mother’s attacker, according to the complaint. There were no records of employee interviews, remedial actions, or a police report to the surrounding city or town.

“MDC’s contemporaneous progress notes indicated no meaningful efforts to identify, let alone punish, the perpetrator(s) of numerous violent physical attacks on I.C. around the time her rapist impregnated her,” the complaint states.

What the notes did reveal was several previous injuries her mother sustained at the facility in the year leading up to her rape: a 9-inch abrasion on her back, swelling and “deep discoloration” in her right hand, and a cross-shaped bruise on her left shoulder in January 1985; a bloody, 1-inch cut on her head, a 2-inch bruise on her hip, and other bruises on her back and shoulder in July, according to the complaint. A caretaker named “J.B.” wrote in October that the patient “likes men of color, strips, sometime [sic] yells, jumps, eats very fast.”

In December of that year—around the same time the woman would have been impregnated, based on Cruz’s birth date—another employee wrote: “[I.C.] has still been attacking James.”

Horrified by the results of the records request, the complaint says, Cruz ordered an DNA test to try to identify her mother’s attacker. The test identified a few relatives on her father’s side living in Virginia, whom she promptly looked up on social media. She found photos of a girl with eyes that looked strikingly similar to hers, the complaint states, and the name of the girl’s father: James.

Further internet research revealed that while most of his family lived in Virginia, the man lived in Rochester, New York, miles from MDC. When Cruz brought her findings to the Brighton Police Department, they confirmed he had worked at MDC in 1985, according to the complaint.

Cruz was convinced that the man was “J.B.,” the caretaker who made the lurid notes about her mother, as well as the “James” that she had apparently attacked in December 1985. But the criminal statute of limitations had expired, meaning the police could take no further action.

Cruz eventually sought help from Crumiller, a well-known legal advocate for sexual abuse survivors. They worked together to devise a legal strategy that would reopen the statute of limitations and allow them to seek justice. Then, in May of last year, New York passed the Adult Survivor’s Act, which opened a one-year “lookback window” for complaints of sexual abuse that were past the statute of limitations—complaints just like Cruz’s.

Cruz filed her suit against the New York State Office For People With Developmental Disabilities, which allegedly operated her mother’s facility, just months after the window opened.

“My mother has had a hard life, and I hope this lawsuit will help her get the care that she deserves after OPWDD failed to protect her from her attacker 37 years ago,” she said in a statement. “I live a blessed life and I thank God for my amazingly supportive husband and five kids, who give me the strength to lead with compassion and grace every day.”

The complaint lists several other reported of instances of sexual abuse at MDC. In its first year in operation, seven employees were arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a developmentally delayed boy in its care. A therapist was discovered in a 15-year-old female patient’s bed a few years later, resulting in a lawsuit and a finding of liability against the state. According to the suit, at least 10 MDC staff members from 1976-1985 were identified as pedophiles and rapists.

Cruz’s suit requests compensatory and punitive damages for sexual assault, negligence, and gender discrimination, among other claims.

“She’s motivated to help others,” Crumiller said of her client. “She’s motivated to expose the pattern, and stop the pattern.”

“We want people to see how common this is, and how institutions closed around abusers, and just how vigilant we need to be about protecting vulnerable people,” she added.

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