Sharp eyes and a little luck on the part of a television helicopter pilot and photographer led to a happy ending Wednesday after a toddler was abducted while sleeping in the back of a car stolen at a Kansas City, Kan., gas station.
The KSHB Skytracker team had been searching a wide area for more than an hour and were beginning to get concerned about nightfall when they spotted something near 190th Street and Evans Road in Leavenworth County.
“I could see there was a small silver passenger car in a field along a tree line looking very out of place,” chopper pilot Gregg Bourdon told The Star. “My photographer (James Moore) put the camera on it as we came around the tree line. The door was open, and the little girl was standing in the back seat. At that point, we pretty much knew what we had.”
The car thieves had abandoned the vehicle and the girl.
The chopper team notified their station, who relayed the location to Kansas City, Kan., police, who were searching on the ground.
“In this business, a little bit of luck goes a long way,” Bourdon said.
As the chopper video reveals, the girl gets out of the car and starts running down the road, probably scared to death. Soon, a police officer pulls up in a black SUV, greets the girl on one knee, soothes her face and picks her up.
The girl was left sleeping inside a running car that was taken Wednesday afternoon from a Kansas City, Kan., gas station at Seventh Street and Riverview Avenue.
A cellphone had been left in the stolen car, and police were able to “ping” its approximate location. When the pinging stopped in the area of Interstate 70 and 206th Street, police requested help from other law enforcement agencies with an aircraft.
But none was immediately available.
However, KSHB Channel 41 had called and offered its helicopter to be used in the search if needed.
Kansas City, Kan., police passed along the area where the pinging had stopped. It was an area with about a 5-mile radius, which would have been difficult and time-consuming for officers on the ground, Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Terry Zeigler noted.
But the TV helicopter crew was able to locate the car on a dirt road and guide police to the scene.
Zeigler said the successful search for the abducted little girl demonstrated the speed and reach of social media as well as how police departments and the media can work together to resolve a potentially dangerous situation.
“Yesterday was a good day,” Zeigler said Thursday.
Zeigler tweeted news of the abduction as soon as he heard about it, and a police commander on the scene quickly made the decision to share photos and video of the man and woman believed to have been involved.
“That was a great decision,” the chief said.
The department did not immediately seek to have an Amber Alert issued, in part because of the time it takes to be approved by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and because commanders thought they couldn’t spare the manpower dedicated to the search to prepare information for the Amber Alert.
“It’s not as quick as Twitter,” he said.
But as the search continued, the department did begin the process, and that KBI approval had just been given when the little girl and stolen car were found near Tonganoxie in rural Leavenworth County, Zeigler said.
Bourdon said he has found downed aircraft in the past.
“This is by far the most successful search we’ve ever done,” he said. “This was a classic case of a child basically abandoned by bad guys out in the middle of nowhere.”
Said Zeigler: “If it wasn’t for those guys, I don’t know when we would have found that little girl. They did a great job.”
Police on Thursday still were seeking the woman who took the car with the baby in it.
A male accomplice was arrested Thursday and was being questioned by detectives.