Missing SR 2-year-old found; father jailed

Limousine driver’s call to San Bruno police leads to arrest after picking
up pair walking barefoot in rain

By Michael Marie

If you don’t believe Christmas is the season for miracles, William Ball
of Bridgewater might tell you otherwise.

Ball, whose daughter had been missing for more than two years since she
was abducted by her mother, got word Friday that 9-year-old Samantha
Padilla was alive, well and on her way back to Connecticut from Mexico.
“This is absolutely wonderful news,” said Ball, who is known as Bucky. “I
keep mopping up tears, tears of joy.”

Samantha was found Friday, said Lt. Mark Deal, a detective with the
Waterbury Police Department, which has been on the case since the girl
was abducted by her mother in November of 2002. Melani Padilla, 42, is
wanted in Connecticut for custodial interference in the first degree,
Deal said.

“I’m very happy for Mr. Ball and that Samantha is OK,” he said.

Authorities located the girl when Melani Padilla contacted a U.S.
consulate somewhere in Mexico, Deal said. They already knew she was in
Mexico because she had been drawing from a bank account, but police could
not pinpoint exactly where she was.

At the consulate, Padilla asked for free plane tickets back to the
United States and whether there were any outstanding warrants for her
arrest, Deal said. Her request triggered an investigation by the State
Department, and she was taken into custody when the Connecticut warrant
popped up, he said.

Padilla is in jail in Los Angeles, awaiting extradition to Connecticut.

Friday, Lisa Skelly, an FBI agent involved in the hunt for Samantha,
went to Mexico to pick the girl up, Deal said. They are expected back in
the state sometime today.

Ball, 54, can’t wait to see his daughter, who was 7 when she and her
mother vanished from their Bunker Hill Avenue apartment in Waterbury.

“I have a nickname for her,” he said. “I always called her Princess, and
I just know she’s going to react to it. I’m going to say, ‘Come here,
Princess, ‘ and in my mind I see her running and jumping into my arms.”

Well-wishers were ringing his phone off the hook Friday night, he said.
As soon as friends and family got wind of the news, they went out
Christmas shopping for Samantha, Ball said.

“One thing is for sure, she’s going to have the biggest and best
Christmas ever,” he said.

Ball, however, is concerned about Samantha’s physical and mental
condition because Melani Padilla is diagnosed as bipolar — a mental
illness marked by severe mood swings — and was under court order to see a
psychiatrist and take medication when the two disappeared between Nov. 6
and Nov. 11, 2002.

Melani Padilla also has a history of alcohol abuse, violence, suicide
attempts and hospitalizations for mental illness, according to a letter
to police from her adoptive father, Neil Johnson of Allen, Texas. Johnson
couldn’t be reached Friday night.

Shortly before they disappeared, Melani Padilla indicated that she
wanted to move to Little Falls, N.Y., near Utica, but Ball told her she
was required to give the court 90 days written notice of such a move.

Three days later, she called Ball and asked him to postpone visiting
Samantha for a day because the child was sick.

When he arrived for his visit, they were gone.

In December 2002, through his attorney, Vincent McCarthy of New Milford,
Ball learned Melani Padilla was staying at a New London women’s shelter.
New London police were on their way to serve her with the Waterbury
arrest warrant, but she left the shelter by the back door and hadn’t been
seen since — until Friday, when she was detained in Mexico and sent to
Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2004 Republican-American

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