A 9-year-old girl who vanished during a family camping trip in upstate New York was “safe and in good health” on Monday after a massive two-day search ended with her rescue and the arrest of a person suspected in her abduction, police said.
Charlotte Sena disappeared while riding her bike early on Saturday evening at Moreau Lake State Park, a heavily wooded area some 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Albany.
Governor Kathy Hochul said on Monday night during a news conference that investigators were able to identify a fingerprint from a ransom note allegedly left by the suspect she identified as Craig Nelson Ross Jr., 47.
“What happened was extraordinary,” she said.
She said while the rest of Charlotte’s family remained at the campground where she had gone missing, police watching their home saw someone drop a note in their postbox at 4:20am. Monday. State police pulled fingerprints off the note and the second one matched Ross, who was in a database from a 1999 DWI case, Hochul said.
Law enforcement agents linked Ross to a property owned by his mother, made entry and found him in a camper at about 6:30pm, she said.
“After some resistance, the suspect was taken into custody and immediately the little girl was found in a cabinet,” Hochul said. “She knew she was being rescued. She knew that she was in safe hands.”
Charlotte was taken to a local hospital, as is customary, Hochul said, adding that she appeared physically unharmed and that she and her family have been reunited.
No charges have been brought against Ross, but they are expected, Hochul said. Ross was still being questioned on Monday night, Hochul said.
The governor named Ross as the suspect late Monday night and it wasn’t immediately known if he had a lawyer to comment on his behalf.
Authorities said it was still an active investigation.
The rescue marked the end of an intense search. About 400 people took part in the hunt for the girl Monday, including forest rangers, police officers and firefighters. The search had expanded over 46 linear miles (74 linear kilometres).
Charlotte, a fourth grader from nearby Greenfield, had been riding her bike around a campsite loop in the park with other children when she decided to ride around one more time by herself. Her parents became alarmed when she failed to return after 15 minutes, Hochul said at a briefing Sunday.
The girl’s mother called 911 after her bicycle was found at around 6:45pm. Saturday.
Officials issued an Amber Alert on Sunday morning after an exhaustive search because “it was quite possible that an abduction had taken place,” state police Lt. Colonel Richard Mazzone said. The alert described her as a white girl with blonde hair and green eyes who is about tall 1.37 meters (4 feet 6 inches).
The girl’s family pleaded with the public for help in finding Charlotte, including providing any tips to the state police.
“We just want her returned safely like any parent would,” the family said in a statement earlier on Monday. “No tip is too small, please call if you know anything at all.”
Troopers had set up several checkpoints on the winding, rural roads around the park. They stopped drivers and asked if they knew the family, had seen the girl’s photo or had any other information that could help the search. They also had some drivers open their trunks.
The park remained closed because of the search, and officials asked members of the public who showed up hoping to help to stay away and leave the search to professionals. Federal authorities also issued a temporary flight restriction over the park for the safety of law enforcement air operations.
The Corinth Central School District said it had extra counsellors at Charlotte’s junior school for any students or staff who need support.
“Our hearts go out to the Sena family,” the district said in a statement.