Yakima police warn parents about child safety after baby was kidnapped, abandoned in alley

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima police are warning parents that “split-second” decisions about their child’s safety could mean avoiding a catastrophe, following a kidnapping Sunday that prompted an Amber Alert and a frantic search for a missing 1-year-old girl.

Police said thanks to a citizen’s careful attention to that alert, they were able to take the suspect into custody and get the location of the baby, who had been abandoned in an alley in Union Gap and left there alone for hours.

“It’s a very precarious situation that the child was in and could have turned out a lot worse,” Lt. Chad Stephens said. “Had that person not seen the vehicle and it not been discovered, we don’t know how long it would have been before we found that child.”

Stephens said the incident started just after 9:30 a.m., when a mother out running errands parked outside the post office near South 3rd and West Washington avenues and left the car running — with her 1-year-old daughter in the backseat.

“She was just going to dive in real quick and get her mail and then the suspect jumped in the car and stole it,” Stephens said.

Stephens said the suspect was a 33-year-old man reportedly living on the streets who they believe stole the car to get back to Hermiston, Oregon, where he’s from. He said they don’t believe the man knew there was a baby in the car when he took it.

A couple hours later, police reportedly got a tip from a person in Sunnyside who told 911 dispatchers they’d seen a car matching the description on the freeway.

“When you see those Amber Alerts come out, pay attention,” Stephens said. “Pay attention to your surroundings, because you could really be an asset to the law enforcement agency and to the family and to the child’s life that’s in danger.”

Stephens said once law enforcement found the car, they tried to pull the driver over and engaged in a 10-minute-long pursuit that ended with the suspect being taken into custody — but there was no sign of the baby.

“He described that he had left the 1-year-old in an alley near a carwash somewhere in Union Gap, which prompted a search and shortly thereafter the child was discovered in good condition,” Stephens said.

READ: One-year-old child located in Union Gap, reunited with family

Stephens said the baby was out there for at least two hours, When asked why no one noticed a baby in the alley, he said the suspect had pushed the car seat, with the child still in it, behind some pallets in the alley.

“If we wouldn’t have found the vehicle — which led to ultimately led to the child’s discovery — who knows how long it would have been?” Stephens said. “I hate to even think about that.”

The 33-year-old man was arrested and booked into the Yakima County jail, where he’s being held on suspicion of second-degree kidnapping, theft of a motor vehicle, eluding and abandoning a dependent person. Bail has been set at $500,000.

Stephens said this incident should remind parents not to leave their children in a car alone. He said it’s understandable why a parent may not want to wake a sleeping child by getting them out of the car, but it’s not worth risking  their safety.

“I think you always have a choice; you can always unbuckle that car seat and take them in,” Stephens said. “I realize the child may be sick or may be needing a nap and, you know, that all could be part of the issue going on, but to leave your child in a car is just not a safe thing to do.”

Stephens said while incidents like this don’t happen frequently, there’s always a chance that it will happen again. Kidnappings by a stranger are typically uncommon, but this isn’t the first time it’s happened in Yakima this year.

READ: Yakima man in custody for accused kidnapping, molestation of a 6-year-old girl

Early last month, a 6-year-old girl was reported to have left the house while her mother was taking a nap and was walking down a nearby street when police said she was kidnapped by a stranger, taken away in his car and molested.

Stephens said that’s why it’s important for parents to make safety plans, talk with their children about what to do in an emergency and make sure they know which adults they can trust or contact in a bad situation.

“Unfortunately, in our day and age, there’s predators everywhere,” Stephens said. “It’s a tough conversation to have with your child but it is a reality of the of the world we’re living in.”

Stephens said while some parents may be hesitant to have those kinds of serious conversations with their children at a young age, it’s better than having them unprepared when catastrophe strikes.

“Children are very smart and intuitive and can pay attention and understand what’s going on, sometimes better than adults,” Stephens said. “I think that if they’re aware and they have the tools and understanding of what to do in emergencies, they’re much better off than being caught off guard.”

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