A 1-month-old baby snatched from her mother's car in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Texas was back with her parents today, and a former corrections officer was charged with kidnapping her.
Margarita Chavez, bearing scrapes on her face and her hands heavily bandaged from her desperate attempts to save her child, said she was sore but very happy to have her daughter, Nancy Crystal Chavez, back in her arms.
"There no words," she said of their reunion. "My hope never ended. I trusted the Lord. I was sure I was going to get my baby back."
Nancy was abducted Tuesday from the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot in Abilene as her mother was loading her groceries into her minivan. Margarita Chavez said she had placed her three children in the minivan and walked just 10 feet away to return her shopping cart when she saw a woman grab her baby out of the vehicle, get into her own car and begin to drive away.
Chavez latched on to the abductor's getaway car and was dragged more than 30 feet across the parking lot as she screamed for help, police said.
Nancy was found unharmed after police pulled over her suspected kidnapper in Quanah, about 125 miles north of the Abilene. After being identified and examined, the baby was reunited with her tearful parents.
Suspect Wanted ‘to Fill a Void’
The suspect, identified as Paula Lynn Roach, 24, was charged with one count of aggravated kidnapping. In a court appearance today, Roach said she understood the charge. She was ordered held on $200,000 bail.
Police said Roach signed a written statement confessing to the abduction and told police she took Nancy to "fill a void." Roach, investigators suspected, took Nancy because she saw a window of opportunity.
Police said Roach worked as a corrections officer for about 20 months before resigning in September 2000. She had lived in Abilene for the several months and worked at a convenience store and had relatives in Quanah.
Abilene police Sgt. Kim Vickers said police pulled over the suspect's car because it matched the description of the vehicle that drove off with baby Nancy on Tuesday.
Police had also been tipped off by staff at a nursing home where the suspect's mother works. Roach brought the baby to the nursing home, saying this was her own newborn. Staff members became suspicious because of the baby's size and because the infant had pierced ears. They knew that Roach lived in Abilene and had heard about the kidnapping, one of the staff members said.
"She was showing off her baby," Dina Leal, director of nurses at the home, said today on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "Everyone was suspicious that it looked older than a day old. It had pierced ears and we were just all suspicious of it."
They called police, who arrived after Roach had already left. Officers caught up with her a short way from the nursing home and pulled her over.
After further questioning, police found that the suspect and the infant fit the description provided to the public and law enforcement. Roach allegedly told police she had just given birth to the child the day before and was in a hurry to get her home.
When asked if she had anything to say to Roach, Chavez said: "I would only ask that God bless her and help her."
Wal-Mart surveillance cameras, which captured the kidnapping, showed that the suspect's car had been circling around the parking lot for some time before the abduction.
Authorities credited the Amber Alert System, which flashed details of the kidnapping and escape vehicle in different parts of the state, with helping get the word out. Nancy's abduction provided the first opportunity for officials to use the system statewide.
"I think the results pretty much speak for themselves," said Vickers. "I think it's a very positive thing. And I believe it had an impact on our ability to get this baby back home as soon as we did."
Second High-Profile Kidnapping, Second Happy Ending
This was the second high-profile kidnapping to grab media attention this week, and the second to end happily. As police in Texas recovered baby Nancy, the family of Jessica Cortez in Southern California celebrated the return of a 4-year-old girl who had disappeared from a Los Angeles Park on Sunday.
Jessica was rescued Tuesday when a woman brought her to a children's health clinic, where workers recognized her and called police. The woman, Patricia Cornejo, 34, has been arrested on kidnapping charges.
Cornejo brought Jessica, who was dirty and barefoot with her hair cut short, to a clinic Tuesday to be treated for a sore throat when the staff recognized the girl from media coverage of the case, authorities said.
Though Cornejo gave the girl's name as Maria, clinic staff members asked her what her name was. When she said "Jessica," they called police.
On Wednesday, Jessica's parents thanked the police, media and hospital staff for helping reunite them with their daughter.
"I give thanks to the police who did so much for our daughter. I'm happy to have her by my side," said Rafael Cortez, Jessica's father.
"It was very moving," Maria Hernandez, Jessica's mother, said of their reunion. "We looked at each other. I yelled 'Mija' [my daughter] and she yelled 'Mama!'"