Baby Gabriel Likely Still Alive, Cops Say

Father pleads for son's return; mom claims to have left him with random couple.

Jan. 7, 2010— -- A missing 8-month-old Arizona baby is likely still alive, despite his young mother's claim that she killed him, according to police.

Gabriel Johnson's biological father, Logan McQueary, is begging for the return of his son, who was taken cross-country by his mother, Elizabeth Johnson, last month. He and police believe Johnson may have left the couple's son with people she met in San Antonio, Texas, in an effort to hide Gabriel from McQueary.

"Please, do the right thing and turn him over. Don't worry about getting in trouble or anything like that," McQueary said on "Good Morning America" today to whoever knows where Gabriel is. "Please. I want my son back."

Although police say they now have indications to the contrary, McQueary said he received text messages from his ex-girlfriend while she was on the run, claiming to have murdered their baby. She was arrested Dec. 29 in Miami Beach without Gabriel and charged with interfering with custody.

"The last indications that we have was that Gabriel was alive and well in the San Antonio area on Dec. 26," Tempe Police Sgt. Steve Carbajal told "Good Morning America" today. "We are receiving some indications that Gabriel is still alive and we're very optimistic about that."

In a jailhouse interview this week with a Phoenix CBS affiliate, Johnson, 23, of Tempe, Ariz., denied harming their son, saying she told McQueary she had killed Gabriel to get back at him.

"He had ruined my life and he hurt me and I wanted to hurt him," she said. "And that was the only thing I could say that would hurt him."

She claimed in the same interview to have left her son with a random couple she met in a San Antonio park, but that she didn't know anything about them other than that they seemed trustworthy.

Johnson's grandfather, Bob Johnson, told ABC News that he doesn't believe his granddaughter's story that she simply left her child with an unknown couple.

"I think that she has given the baby to somebody and I think she knows who it is," he said. "I think it's in San Antonio in somebody else's house and she just ain't given it up.

"She has an anger-management problem and she's working on that," Bob Johnson said.

Cops: Couple Claiming to Be Gabriel's Adoptive Parents Have No Rights to Child

The bizarre custody dispute began before Christmas when Johnson fled after McQueary refused to sign paperwork relinquishing his rights to Gabriel.

Johnson, who had been in talks with an Arizona couple to adopt Gabriel, lost custody of Gabriel after failing to appear at a Dec. 28 court hearing.

Carbajal told "Good Morning America" that the couple claiming to be Gabriel's adoptive parents -- Tammi and Jack Smith -- have no legal right to the child.

"We want to be clear that the court has made a determination here in Arizona that Logan is the father," he said. "Logan has stated numerous times that his desire is to raise his son Gabriel."

Tammi and Jack Smith are sticking by Johnson, talking to her in jail and saying she hid Gabriel to protect him.

"What she is telling us is that she met a family, a Caucasian man and woman with no child -- young," Tammi Smith told "Good Morning America."

"And she met them in the park. And she was crying and distraught and they came up to her and said, 'How can we help you?'"

When pressed for details about the couple, Smith said Johnson didn't remember much despite having spent three days with them, just that the woman's first name was "Cheryl." Tammi Smith said Johnson told her she purposely tried not to focus on their car or last names so she wouldn't be tempted to change her mind and get her son back.

"She believed she was doing a closed adoption," Tammi Smith said.

Police have also questioned the Smiths and searched their home but found no clues to indicate where Gabriel might be.

Johnson is scheduled to be extradited to Arizona this week. A search of her car -- found Tuesday by the FBI in San Antonio -- yielded no obvious clues or evidence of violence, police say.

Motherhood was never really Johnson's strong suit, Bob Johnson said.

"She discovered after eight months that there's more to this parenting than she wanted to get involved in," he said. "It was not her thing. She was into fashion."

Father of Missing Baby Gabriel Says He Was Pressured to Give Up Child

Jack Smith admitted he thought the entire adoption process with Johnson "felt strange," but that they all lived nearby and they had bonded with the baby after keeping him for a couple of weeks in December.

McQueary has charged that the Smiths pressured him into giving up the rights to his child.

"When Gabriel disappeared they said, basically, 'You know, if you care about your son and you want him back, you will sign the paperwork and she will bring him back to us and you will know that he is safe,'" McQueary said.

The Smiths deny the accusation and said they were simply passing on that message from Johnson and that they told McQueary they knew such papers wouldn't hold up because he signed them under duress, though it might bring the baby back.

"The father and Jack and I were in constant contact when we found out Elizabeth fled with the baby," Tammi Smith said. "When we finally got to speak to Elizabeth, she was so angry with the whole situation and told me, 'I have one message to give to Logan.'"

That message, Smith said, was sign the papers and the baby will be brought back.

Anyone with information about Gabriel Johnson is asked to call the Tempe Police Department at 480-350-8311.