Child found safe after van stolen: Amber Alert spurs citizens to action

By Rusty Bradshaw, Independent Newspapers

The Amber Alert system and several citizens helped locate a child whose
mother may be learning a hard lesson after her van was stolen in Surprise
with her son inside. Surprise police were consulting with the Maricopa County Attorney’s
Office late last week to determine if child endangerment charges would be
pressed against the mother for leaving the child in the unlocked vehicle
with the engine running.

“This is kind of a tricky issue so that is why we were talking with the
county attorney to see what could be done,” said Officer Marci Darrow,
spokeswoman for the Surprise Police Department.

The woman had left her 15-passenger van unlocked with the engine running
at 15003 W. Bell Road while she went into an insurance office Wednesday,
July 20, Officer Darrow explained. The 8-year-old boy was asleep in one
of the rear seats when it was taken.

“It is incredible someone would leave a car unlocked and running in this
day and age,” Officer Darrow said. “And leaving a child inside is even
worse.”

The incident started just after noon. “We got the call at 12:34 p.m. and
we began the process to activate the Amber Alert,” Officer Darrow said.
The alert had been in effect about 30 minutes when Surprise police got
the call at 3 p.m. the van had been located in El Mirage.

The suspect in the vehicle theft was described, according to Officer
Darrow, as a Hispanic male about 5’6″ tall and weighing around 140 pounds
with short dark hair. He was wearing a white tank top shirt and blue gym
shorts. He also had a red and blue tattoo on his upper right shoulder,
she added.

“One thing we are wondering is where was this guy for 2-1/2 hours, and
then he ends up only about 10 minutes from where he started,” said Lt.
Bill Seltzer of the El Mirage Police Department. Police questioned the
youngster at the scene but got little information.

While working on the Amber Alert protocol, according to Officer Darrow,
information on the case was sent out to all officers immediately and they
began a search. “All our resources are involved in a search, including a
majority if not all of the administrative staff,” she said. “Our main
concern is the safety of the child.”

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, the El Mirage Police and Department of
Public Safety were also notified immediately because they are adjoining
agencies, according to Officer Darrow. “Then once the Amber Alert is set
up, every agency in the area is involved,” she said.

Close cooperation between all agencies concerned is a key to a positive
resolution of any such emergency, according to Lt. Seltzer. “We had very
good cooperation with Surprise Police Department,” he said.

The van was initially found by up to four local citizens. They estimate
it had only been parked 2-3 minutes before they found it. El Mirage
resident Tim Zimmerman said he was driving home from work when he heard
the Amber Alert and saw the van on 129th Avenue.

“There was a couple from a van across the street and another man heading
for the van and I stopped to help,” Mr. Zimmerman said. After calling the
police, he and the other citizens on the scene offered emotional support
for the child. “He didn’t seem harmed or scared, he was more interested
in watching a movie on his portable DVD player,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

El Mirage Officer Paul Lazinsky was flagged down by one of the citizens
and was the first officer on the scene. “The van was locked and he was
concerned about heat becoming a problem,” Lt. Seltzer said. “He was able
to communicate to the boy to unlock the door.” The suspect may not have
known the child was in the vehicle, Lt. Seltzer speculated.

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