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Diamond Bar Resident Accused of Stealing Purse, Toys from Grieving Mother

A mom's purse was stolen in Riverside County. It contained toys from her infant son who died last year.

The couple seen in this photo are believed to have used a credit card taken from the same purse which contained a grieving mother's toys that once belonged to her baby boy. Photo courtesy: Murrieta Police Department.
The couple seen in this photo are believed to have used a credit card taken from the same purse which contained a grieving mother's toys that once belonged to her baby boy. Photo courtesy: Murrieta Police Department.
By Renee Schiavone

Murrieta police say two people who are suspected of stealing a local woman's purse—which contained the toys from her infant son who died last year—are now in custody.

As Patch first reported April 2, Ashley Norris' purse was taken from a locker at the Murrieta LA Fitness on March 31.  Inside were toys she carried with her at all times which belonged to her baby boy, Timothy.

"I carry [Timothy's] toys everywhere with me, in a way it brings me comfort knowing I have something of his that I always have with me," she told Patch.

Norris was devastated when the toys were stolen, and launched a campaign to help get them back, passing out fliers at the gym and reaching out through the media.

"I couldn't care less about the purse and all the other contents, they are all replaceable, my son's toys are not," she told Patch after the theft.  "The toys are the only things I really want back."

Soon, police were able to pull surveillance images of a couple who were allegedly using credit cards taken from Norris' purse.  Patch shared those photos, as did other local media outlets.

"Through several anonymous tips and additional investigative leads, the suspects were identified as Amanda Sander (age 30) and Romulo Castaneda (age 49)," Murrieta Police Lt. Tony Conrad said Friday.

According to Conrad, Sander, a Diamond Bar resident, was located earlier this week—already locked up, at the Los Angeles County jail on an unrelated charge.

"She was interviewed, but refused to cooperate with the investigation," he said.

The lieutenant tells Patch police were able to link Sander to the case because she gave the stolen purse to a friend, who did cooperate with police.

Unfortunately, the toys were no longer with the bag.

"The purse was recovered by detectives and the associate was determined to be uninvolved in the case," Conrad said. "The purse was returned to the victim, but the toys were not recovered."

Until Thursday, the man's location remained unknown.  But then authorities were able to track him down to a hotel in Chino Hills, according to Conrad.

"Mr. Castaneda was arrested without incident and transported back to Murrieta PD for questioning," Conrad said.  "Although Mr. Castaneda gave a statement, he was unable to give detectives the location of the toys."

The man was arrested and booked into the Murrieta jail on charges of fraud, burglary and identity theft.  He posted $5,000 bail and was released Friday, according to jail records.

Sander remains jailed in Los Angeles County, and Murrieta police have filed charges with the Riverside County District Attorney related to fraud, burglary, possession of stolen property and identity theft, according to Conrad.

Though the toys have yet to be found, Norris says she's hoping Sander will eventually cooperate, and will try to confront her face to face.

"I just want the toys and if I can meet up with her sometime time, I will," she told Patch Friday morning.  "I think they were thrown away ... but if she could just tell me if she threw them away or not, I would be at peace"

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