I-Team Investigates Alleged Abuse At Baja Orphanage

CLARIFICATION: These I-Team stories describe allegations regarding orphans who lived at the Miracle Ranch in Ensenada, Baja, Mexico. It should NOT be confused with another orphange using the same name located in Tecate, Baja, Mexico. The Miracle Ranch (www.miracleranch.org) in Tecate is not the subject of our I-Team story. Media outlets in Mexico have been reporting the wrong information in regards to our story and we wish to clear up any confusion created by the inaccurate reporting.

Thirty-five orphans at a Baja orphanage told the I-Team they're victims of abuse.

"We were not to tell anybody what was going on there," one female victim said. "He still was kicking and punching me. I feel so dirty. I was afraid to say anything. This man abused me and raped me and oh, God... "

They grew up at Miracle Ranch, a Christian orphanage located in a dusty, secluded compound in the foothills 90 minutes south of San Diego. The victims range in age between 25 and 40.

They claim Antonio Hernandez and his brother Jose Hernandez abused them. They also say Antonio's wife Edna Hernandez did nothing to stop it.

"She's fooling everybody," one of the victims said.

They describe a place of fear, where the generator was shut down after dark so that no one could turn on the lights when the men would come into the dorms.

"I used to see Antonio going under the blankets and touching the girls and kissing them," said another victim.

They talk of repeated rapes, saying girls as young as six years old were sexually abused to the point of bleeding, while Edna did her best to cover it up.

"We saw the trash can with blood papers and diapers and she said, 'oh, she got hurt with a cactus,'" said a victim.

Like Elsa Ochoa, now 40 years old, these victims continue to carry their shame.

Through tears, she told the I-Team: "Every time I can, I eat soap because I feel so dirty. When I went to the supermarket I want to taste it. I feel comfortable after I eat soap."

Members of the I-Team went undercover to Miracle Ranch. The orphanage is lacking in much, but to our untrained eyes, the children seemed healthy.

The I-Team found Jose Hernandez, the brother of Antonio, who was forced to quit after complaints from other staff members. Antonio and Edna are still running the orphanage.

The I-Team showed emotional footage of the victims to Mark Stratton and Drew Belk who run the Baja Children's Fund, which supports the ranch. Much of that money comes from generous San Diegans.

"We don't believe the accusations against Antonio because there appear to be ulterior motives," said Statton and Belk who believe those claiming to be victims are being manipulated by two former ranch staffers: Steve Schinhofen and Neill Vaughn, who they said are the two trying to gain control of the land where the acre orphanage sits. Schienhioffen and Vaughn adamantly deny this and say Baja Children's fund is doing all they can to avoid the real issue.

"This really is not about us, it has nothing to do with us," Vaughn said.

The Baja Children's Fund does not deny there was abuse at Miracle Ranch years ago. They admit at least two pedophiles, Dalton Weber, who admitted to molesting five children at a Carlsbad church in 1994, and John Swink, who was convicted of lewd acts with a minor under 14, did frequent the orphanage in the '70s and '80s.

"I think some of these things did happen. There is amount a truth in everything. I don't believe the sexual accusations against Antonio," said Stratton.

Stratton and Belk refuse to believe Antonio and Edna are harming the children. They said the jury is still out on the allegations of current mistreatment of the orphans.

"All we're trying to do now is take care of the kids at that orphanage and hope that someone with more knowledge then we have will sort this out," Belk said.

Marissa Ugarte who heads up the Bilateral Safety Coalition Corridor argues Mexican agencies' oversight of orphanages is poor at best. She says if these children were abused at any time, and Antonio and Edna even knew about it, they should not be running an orphanage today.

"We can't just make children liars. Our duty is first to believe the child then everything else," said Ugarte.

The now grown children showed us their scars from what they said were beatings in the orphanage. They said they have scars inside too from being told they were worthless.

"They always tell us 'why you are here? Nobody loves you,'" one of the victims said.

The orphans have filed criminal charges against the Hernandez's in the city of Ensenada.

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