San Jose Police Arrest Suspect in Girl's Abduction

By  | 

Police arrested a suspect in the abduction of nine-year-old Jennette Tamayo on Monday just 10 hours after the shaken girl walked into a convenience store less than 30 miles from the San Jose home where she was kidnapped.

The man, who police said did not carry identification, was taken into custody around 5:30 a.m. after a SWAT team raided a San Jose home where he was staying with a friend, Chief William Lansdowne said.

The home was less than a mile from where an intruder brazenly kidnapped Tamayo on Friday after savagely beating her mother and brother. Police said Monday they believe the man knew of the fourth-grade girl through one of her former schoolmates - though neither Jennette nor her family knew him.

On Monday morning, the man tried to fight off officers and was taken to the hospital after a police dog bit him, Sgt. Steve Dixon said.

The man looked like a police sketch of the suspect and had injuries consistent with what police expected from the struggle he had with Tamayo's mother, Lansdowne said.

"We're very confident this is the right person," Lansdowne said.

The girl's mother, her face still puffy from Friday's attack, thanked authorities, the media and her neighbors before she began to choke back tears.

"I want to tell all mothers not to let your kids walk alone on the street, no matter how secure it is," Rosalie Tamayo said in Spanish. "Because when you feel you lose a child, I think it is like the feeling of dying."

Jennette Tamayo suddenly appeared at a store in East Palo Alto late Sunday night "crying and scared," according to police and the store owner. Whether she escaped or was dropped off was not clear.

Reunited with her mother and other family members, she was in good spirits - and because she remained alert during the ordeal provided investigators with information leading to the arrest, Lansdowne said.

The girl was healthy and had not suffered major physical injuries, Lansdowne said. Investigators who were trying to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted continued their work Monday morning, when Jennette was finally given a chance to sleep.

Investigators believe Jennette remained in the San Francisco Bay area during her abduction, although police declined to provide further details about the girl's time in captivity.

Deputy Chief Rob Davis said police believe the abduction was not a random crime: not only did the attacker wait for Jennette to return home - alone - from school Friday, he twice told Jennette's mother "you know what I want" as he beat her in her home before screeching off with Jennette in the back seat of his car.

The girl's ordeal ended about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, when she walked into the Eastside Market in East Palo Alto, said shop owner Isa Yasin, who said he did not see anyone drop off the girl.

"She was crying and scared," Yasin said.

The kidnapper told Jennette not to call police, so she first tried to call her mother, though she was too shaken to dial the number, Davis said. After talking briefly with the girl, Yasin realized her identity and called police.

In Jennette's neighborhood, residents poured into the streets to hug and celebrate as news of her return spread.

"It was just like a Hollywood script," said neighbor Karen Kamfolt. "People came from all directions out of their houses."

For Jennette's family, friends and neighbors, the happy ending capped a horrifying weekend that began when the girl was abducted as unknowing neighbors shot baskets just a few houses away.

Much of the shocking crime was captured in a grainy videotape produced by surveillance cameras mounted on a neighbor's home.

Condensed by police into a 25-minute reel and released to the media Sunday, the tape presented a step-by-step account of the crime, from the kidnapper's wait in his car outside Jennette's house to the audible screams of Jennette's mother as the girl was taken away.

The tape showed a man in a silver sedan driving up to the house and waiting for Jennette to arrive home from school.

When she walked down the street and entered the house about 4:20 p.m., the kidnapper waited about 90 seconds and then followed her inside.

He spent about 25 minutes inside the house with the girl, and then attacked Jennette's mother and 15-year-old brother when they arrived home, an altercation that could be heard on the tape.

The boy broke free, and is seen on the tape running outside for help. His mother comes out moments later - beaten, bloodied and screaming for help as well.

The suspect's car roars out of the driveway with Jennette inside, crushing rose bushes along the way.

"He wasn't roaming the neighborhood looking for houses to break into," Sgt. Steve Dixon said. "He was there for quite some time, just waiting for this little girl to come home."

Rosalie Tamayo and her son said they did not recognize the intruder, whose face could not be seen clearly in the video. The mother and son were treated at a hospital and later released.

The abduction shook residents of Jennette's quiet middle-class neighborhood.

"I'm sure kids will be watched a lot closer than they have been," said Kamfolt, the neighbor whose surveillance cameras caught the kidnapping.

But residents also said the area will bounce back, given Jennette's safe return. Reed McInroy, who lives a few houses down the street from the Tamayo family, said a block party is scheduled for early next month.

"I guarantee you it's going to be the biggest block party you ever saw," McInroy said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)