CHICAGO -- The woman with the baby arrived while parishioners of the Queen of Angels Roman Catholic Church on the Northwest Side were decorating a creche for Christmas.
She spoke in Spanish to a priest about baptizing the baby, then stayed a while to pray.
No one saw the stranger leave Thursday. But soon they all were gawking at what she left behind, on a white blanket spread on a marble floor in the vestibule: a 7-week-old girl, with a birthmark near her left ear.
Crystal Guerrero was recognized by everyone. Her photo had been a staple of newscasts and newspapers since a woman took her from an Uptown health clinic a week ago.
Everyone began to cheer and cry. They passed the baby around, hugging and kissing her.
Then the baby burped, and Brother Donald Lucas knew the girl was all right.
"It makes for a wonderful Christmas story," Brother Donald said.
'I never lost hope'
A few hours later, the girl's mother, a tired and nervous Maria Alvarez Guerrero, 25, stood before a dozen microphones.
"I never lost hope," she said in Spanish, as Crystal slept in the arms of her father, Jose, 23, behind a table of donated gifts at the police station. "I knew that my child would be returned."
The mother said she now "will spend Christmas happily with my family."
Illinois Masonic Medical Center doctors said the baby had been TC well fed and was in excellent condition.
The woman who apparently left Crystal at the church returned to the same spot two hours later.
Hortencia Hernandez, 28, of Chicago was charged yesterday with aggravated kidnapping, said police Sgt. Milton Carson.
Mrs. Guerrero identified her as the woman she talked with before the infant disappeared, he said.
"I don't wish her anything bad," Mrs. Guerrero said.
After the baby was found at the church, police contacted Mrs. Guerrero. They did not tell her the baby had been found. We have something to show you, they said.
She was given her baby in an exam room, with her sister and a nurse present.
Cautious at first, Mrs. Guerrero apparently did not want to get her hopes up.
"She walked over and turned [Crystal's] head looking for a pockmark," nurse Rose Bosshardt said.
Then, the mother screamed: "It's my baby! It's my baby!"
Within two minutes, Mrs. Guerrero was breast-feeding her child.
Mr. Guerrero and relatives were driving around the North Side looking for Crystal. About 3 p.m., they first heard a radio report confirming she had been found.
"We all looked at each other and said, 'Did they just say what we think they said? '" said Robin Guerrero, one of Crystal's aunts.
They raced home in the car, but Maria Guerrero had left for the hospital, so they took Jose Guerrero to join her.
Woman asked to hold babies
Crystal had been missing since Dec. 16, when Mrs. Guerrero took her to the Uptown Health Center for her six-week checkup. While Mrs. Guerrero waited in line, a woman asked to hold Crystal.
The woman had approached four or five other women about their babies before talking to Mrs. Guerrero, clinic officials said.
Mrs. Guerrero was distracted when a clinic attendant called for her, and she walked to the counter. When she turned for her baby, Crystal and the woman were gone.
Chicago police and the FBI investigated more than 200 leads over the weekend but had little to go on except Mrs. Guerrero's description of the woman.
Leaving at church suggested
Earlier this week, a Chicago police chaplain encouraged the person who had taken Crystal to leave her at a church.
During the long days of waiting, Mrs. Guerrero and her husband kept a vigil in their North Side apartment, where they fashioned a shrine for Crystal out of a photograph, a pacifier and candles on a stereo speaker.
Thursday evening, in the Guerreros' apartment, family members huddled around a small television set, erupting in cheers when the first images of Crystal with her mother appeared.
Crystal's brother, Rafael, 7, said that in the days Crystal was missing, he joined his parents in front of the shrine, praying for the baby's return.
"I've been doing this," Rafael said, dropping to his knees and popping back up, "because I was missing my sister."
Rafael then ran across the room and proudly brought back the Christmas present he had gotten for his infant sister.
Showing it off, he said, "I got her this little doggie that goes 'ruff-ruff.' If she grows up a little bigger, she'll find out that it makes that noise."
Robin Guerrero said that virtually all of the family's Christmas presents had been given to the family by strangers concerned about Crystal's plight.
"The family members were too busy to even think about Christmas," she said. "Our Christmas is well taken care of. Our present was getting the baby back safely."