As Arizona authorities investigate the sexual assault of a woman at a nursing facility who gave birth to a boy while in a vegetative state for more than a decade, the question of how her pregnancy went unnoticed remains unanswered.
At a Wednesday press conference, when asked if the 29-year-old woman had a full-term pregnancy, Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department said she was “quite a ways along” and had a natural birth on Dec. 29.
But in an interview with PEOPLE, Thompson said it appears medical professionals at the facility — which PEOPLE confirmed was the Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix — did not learn of her pregnancy until she went into labor.
“I think it took everyone by surprise,” Thompson said, adding, “It’s my impression that the staff there had no clue that this lady was having a baby. That she was even pregnant.”
Asked by PEOPLE if staff could have known about the woman’s pregnancy, Thompson said, “I’m not in a position to say, ‘How could someone not [know]?'”
He added, “Certainly that’s a question that people could ask is, ‘How can a woman carry a baby to, pretty much a full-term baby and not realize that she’s pregnant?’ “
Authorities were called to the facility when the woman went into labor, Thompson tells PEOPLE. He would not comment on how long she was in labor.
When asked by PEOPLE if he thought there were other victims, Thompson said, “I don’t know.”
Thompson was asked at the press conference whether police are investigating a possible coverup. He replied, “Right now, we’re investigating a sexual assault,” but he added that “wherever this investigation takes us, we’re prepared to go forward with it.”
Thompson said police believe the mother was sexually assaulted at least once, referring to the incident that conceived the child.
Police are seeking DNA samples from all male staffers at the facility in a push to identify the father of the baby boy, according to a statement from Hacienda Healthcare obtained by PEOPLE.
Thompson has not revealed who they’ve obtained DNA from, but said, “suffice it to say it’s a large number of individuals.”
He said he’s confident police will solve the case but said, “This could be a very long investigation.”
The mother was identified Tuesday by San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler as a member of the tribe, which confirmed in a statement that she “has been in a persistent vegetative state and coma for over a decade.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, the family’s attorney, John Micheaels, revealed the woman’s relatives are “outraged, traumatized and in shock by the abuse and neglect of their daughter at Hacienda Healthcare,” adding, “The family is well aware of the intense news and public interest in their daughter’s case, but at this time is not emotionally ready to make a public statement.”
Following news of the birth, Bill Timmons, the longtime chief executive officer of Hacienda Healthcare, resigned.
In 2017, the facility was cited by the state for failure to protect residents’ privacy while they were naked in the shower, according to records from the state Department of Health and Human Services. After being assured by administrators that staffers “have been counseled on privacy during showering residents,” the state issued a follow-up report in January 2018 which concluded those and other deficiencies uncovered by investigators “have been corrected.”
The boy, who is now nearly two weeks old, is in the care of his mother’s family, Micheaels previously told PEOPLE, adding that, “the family would like me to convey that the baby boy has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for.”
This article first featured on our sister site, PEOPLE.