Police flooded a Springfield neighborhood after a resident called 911 to report seeing an 11-year-old girl being dragged into a car screaming. But, in the end, it was two citizens who provided key information that helped officers bring the child home safely.
About six hours after the girl was abducted coming home from school on Wednesday, Massachusetts State Police troopers pulled over a blue Honda heading eastbound on Interstate-90 and found the 11-year-old inside, said David Procopio, state police spokesman.
Police arrested Miguel Rodriguez, 24, of Springfield, in the area of Charlton and Auburn. Officials did not immediately release the charges he faces, but he is expected to be arraigned in Springfield District Court on Thursday.
“Troopers flooded the area after a motorist called 911 to report seeing a car matching the description put out by the Amber Alert. The car was located by troopers in a work zone and pulled over,” Procopio said when announcing at about 7:30 p.m. that the girl had been found.
She was evaluated by emergency medical services at the scene as a precaution and was then taken to the hospital and reunited with her parents, officials said.
“Her condition looks fair to good. Not sure how much she went through at this point,” Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said in a press conference Wednesday night. “I can say there were no visible injuries on her.”
The child had gotten off the school bus at about 1:30 p.m. and was walking home when a stranger grabbed her near the intersection of Amherst and Princeton streets and forced her into his car, Procopio said.
“She was screaming, got in definitely unwillingly, and they left the area,” Clapprood said.
“Once we realized what we had we knew time was of the essence. This is not the kind of case where we could go home,” she said. “This was an absolute life and death situation for this little girl.”
Police immediately started implementing plans they had trained to use for similar crimes. They booted up all the technology available, including cameras that are placed in key spots in the city and scrutinized video from private security cameras to help identify the car involved, she said.
Multiple law enforcement agencies offered to step in and help, including the Massachusetts State Police and neighboring local departments, she said.
She specifically thanked Trent Duda, head of the detective bureau, and his team who served as the lead unit on the abduction. Extra people were called in just to answer the dozens of 911 calls and texts that were flooding the police department from people who were calling with possible tips.
If the department did not have all the resources and could not put together the information quickly, the girl would not be safe Wednesday night, she said.
Once police identified the car believed to be involved in the abduction, police used social media, local media and television stations to post information about the crime to the general public and asked people to call 911 if they saw her or the car. After officials had enough information to confirm the abduction, they followed the strict process to get an Amber Alert out, which is one of the few ever released in the state, Clapprood said.
Using the description of the car -– an older blue or dark-colored Honda sedan with after-market rims and a moonroof — police in Springfield and surrounding communities fanned out searching for the vehicle, Clapprood said.
“The biggest factor I think in this was the assistance from the public. The tips coming in were amazing. Text-a-tip was lighting up,” she said. “People were out looking for this car, it was amazing,”
People started calling and reporting sightings of dark blue Honda Civics and the closest officers responded to every report. “I’m sorry if you were driving a dark blue Honda Civic and you were pulled over several times tonight but it was worth it,” she said.
Then police got a break. A resident spotted the suspect vehicle on Berkshire Avenue, called 911 and followed the car. That person was able to get an accurate plate number and police then were able to register the number on license plate readers on the Mass Pike, she said.
The information about the car was also released on the Amber Alert, leading another driver to spot the car on the Massachusetts Turnpike and call police. Troopers responded and were able to arrest Rodriguez.
“This is, thank God, a rare occurrence and we know how badly this could have ended up. He was evil and he had her for nefarious reasons,” Clapprood said. “It was a matter of finding her quickly and not giving him time.”
The witness in the abduction initially reported that a woman may have been driving the car. Rodriguez was alone in the car with the girl when he was arrested but police continue to investigate to see if anyone else was involved, she said.
Police said Rodriguez did not know the child, although his last known address is on Bay Street so he would have known the neighborhood where she was abducted. His car was seen driving through the neighborhood on Tuesday, said Ryan Walsh, police spokesman.
“These types of situations are very few and far between where you actually have a stranger abduction of a small child and that is exactly what we had this afternoon,” she said.
When asked what she would tell parents who are frightened about sending their children to school, Clapprood said: “This man is off the street. This man will not hurt anyone.”
Parents should always talk to their children about being aware of strangers and to tell someone if they feel they are being followed or see someone suspicious, she added.
Rodriguez is known to police but Clapprood said officers are still sorting through his criminal background.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno called the abduction the worst fear for any parent and he said he is thankful she was found.
He said he was horrified anyone would try to harm a young, innocent child and offered his best wishes to the girl’s family saying no one should have to go through this.
“This has been a traumatic experience for her but she is alive thanks to the efforts of the Springfield Police Department and the State Police and the public and technology,” he said.
Sarno, who frequently complains about judges setting low bails resulting in repeat offenders returning to Springfield streets to commit other crimes, urged the courts to do “the right thing” in the arraignment on Thursday.
Bringing her home safe also took the dedication and heart of the police officers who were searching for her, Sarno said.
“We think of this as one our children and we go a little extra hard to make sure we get this piece of you-know-what off our streets,” he said.
- ‘We feel really bad;’ Family of Miguel Rodriguez, man accused of abducting girl, says he suffers from schizophrenia
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