Toronto Star

Aug. 14, 09:54 EDT

Abducted Texas baby found safe

Child snatched from grocery parking lot

Toronto Star

ABILENE, Texas (AP) - A month-old infant who was snatched from her family's minivan by a woman in a Wal-Mart parking lot was found safe and unharmed today about 200 kilometres away, authorities said. A former prison guard was charged with kidnapping.

The recovery of little Nancy Crystal Chavez was the "answer to a lot of prayers," police Sgt. Kim Vickers said.

The infant was reunited Wednesday night with her parents, Margarita and Salvador Chavez, at the Abilene police station about 200 kilometres from where the girl was found. As the infant was carried into the building, about three dozen residents and police department employees applauded and cheered.

"She was content and beautiful," Sgt. David Watkins said.

Nancy was found in Quanah, a West Texas town about 200 kilometres north of Abilene, when a sheriff's deputy stopped a car that matched the description provided by the first statewide Amber Alert, a media-driven warning system used to track down missing children.

Police said the suspect, Paula Lynn Roach, 24, was being held on a charge of aggravated kidnapping. Police did not offer a motive.

The baby, Roach and Roach's mother were pulled over in Quanah after authorities received a tip from a nearby nursing home where Roach had gone to show off the baby, police said.

Employees at the home, where Roach's mother works, said they noticed the baby's pierced ears and healed navel and decided the baby could not be a day old, as Roach had claimed.

Hardeman County Sheriff Randy Akers, who stopped the vehicle, said he took the baby and asked the women to follow him to the sheriff's department, where Roach eventually confessed. Roach's mother was not charged, and apparently believed the infant was her granddaughter.

James Duke, warden at the Robertson prison unit in Abilene, told The Associated Press that the suspect worked as a corrections officer for about 20 months before resigning in September 2000. Vickers said Roach had lived in Abilene for the past several months and worked at a convenience store.

Police said Margarita Chavez had finished shopping Tuesday afternoon and had placed her three children - Nancy, a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old - in the minivan. She stepped about 10 feet away to return a shopping cart, then saw a woman pulling her infant and car seat into another car.

The frantic mother desperately tried to stop the getaway car and was dragged more than 30 feet in the parking lot, police said. A man heard Chavez's screams and smashed into the passenger side of the fleeing car, possibly breaking the window.

Margarita Chavez was treated for scratches at an Abilene hospital.

A surveillance video captured the getaway car circling the parking lot in "some type of stalking manner" before the abduction, Vickers said. The video was distributed to television stations, but it was too grainy to show the car's license plate number.

The abduction prompted Texas' first statewide Amber Alert, a system used in more than 40 places nationwide to track missing children by transmitting information quickly to television and radio stations.

The program, which was started in the Dallas area, is named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in 1996. Her attacker never was found.

Gov. Rick Perry announced the state program Monday and it is being implemented over the next 30 days.

In Nancy's case, authorities said police departments were notified and the governor's office sent faxes of news reports about the abduction to other media. Electronic highway signs were programmed to show information on the missing child.

The Abilene area does not have the Amber Alert system, but a police spokeswoman said word of the abduction was spread quickly to local media organizations.

"We do feel like the Amber Alert system deserves a lot of credit," Vickers said. "I think the results pretty much speak for themselves."

Cathy Nahirny of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said Amber Alerts have helped find 22 missing children. A program in California was credited with saving the lives of two teenage girls abducted at gunpoint this month.

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