Nine-month-old Sophia Rivas has been rescued from her abductors and is said to be safe with her mother Valentina Hernandez at an undisclosed location.
The baby’s kidnappers – a 19-year-old woman from California and a man from Curepe – are currently in police custody assisting police.
Police said a ransom of $20,000 was made to Hernandez on Tuesday but no money was paid. The rescue, according to the T&T Police Service, was the result of “good, collaborative investigative work among several units and arms of law enforcement.”
The child’s mother, a Venezuelan national, reported to police that around 9.10 am on Tuesday she was at her Pokhor Road, Longdenville, Chaguanas apartment with her daughter, when the child was taken by the suspect without her permission. Sometime later, police said, Hernandez received a telephone call from the suspect who demanded $20,000 for the safe release of the child.
Acting on intelligence, an exercise spearheaded by Snr. Supt. (Ag.) Curtis Simon was conducted around 10.50 pm on Tuesday. It included officers of the Central Division CID, Operations Unit and CID, Couva CID, Central Division Gang Unit and Task Force, Longdenville Police Post, Anti-Kidnapping Unit, Special Investigations Unit, Cybercrime Unit and T&T Prison Service.
The officers went to Mc Inroy Street, Curepe, where they “found and clinically extracted the baby in a safe manner.” The main suspect and another person were arrested.
Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Jayson Forde told Guardian Media when the police got information on the kidnapping, their main motive was to conduct a successful operation to find the baby alive and gave themselves a 24-48-hour window. Forde said before going to the apartment in Curepe, officers searched several houses in other areas, including San Fernando and Diego Martin. He thanked the officers involved in the successful extraction of the baby and members of the public who assisted the police by providing information throughout Tuesday.
At the apartment complex in Longdenville yesterday, Hernandez and her baby were not at home.
A woman close to Hernandez, who wished not to be identified, said that the suspect was seen as a friend to Hernandez.
“She (Hernandez) knows the mother of the child and is always seen hanging around the apartment and being friendly with the mother. Often she would ask the mother to gift her the baby because she find the baby is cute and all of us took it as a joke because the baby is cute. They didn’t think about it because she is always hanging around and would say to the mother that she should make another one,” the woman said.
At Mc Inroy Street, several residents claimed they did not know of the baby’s rescue until yesterday morning when the news broke on the media.
One woman said: “We live right close to there and we did not know anything. We did not even see police…Is only this morning we hear what happened.”
Another man, who came out to check his mailbox, said he was shocked on hearing the news.
“I didn’t know all this taking place here. Is only this morning (yesterday) when I woke up I heard about it and told my wife.”
A man, who lives next door to where the rescue occurred, said he saw the woman holding the baby outside the apartment on Tuesday night.
“I really see her and she call my neighbour and it’s then that he came out to meet her and took her inside with the baby. I didn’t know that the baby was kidnapped but I really see the police came a little while after and take the baby and then took she and the man into custody,” he said.
“I really don’t know the woman and why or anything and can’t say anything else because I don’t know what really happened and I don’t want anybody to be vex with me when they come out here.”
Hernandez had her baby taken away from her under false pretence by the suspect. The distraught mother told police she was at her apartment when the suspect, whom she knew as a tenant from the building, asked her if she could carry the baby for a walk to a nearby supermarket – the 6to9 Convenience Store and Ice Cream shop, located in an annex to the building, to buy a juice for the child.
The mother said she found it strange when the woman did not return a short while later and got worried. With no sign of the woman and her child after three hours, Hernandez went to the Longdenville Police Post and reported her baby missing.
Police officers went to the supermarket where they recovered CCTV footage which showed the baby in the woman’s arms as she walked through various aisles. The footage also showed the woman leaving with the baby and entering a silver-grey AD station wagon which was parked a few metres from the supermarket. The driver, a man, police said, then drove off with the woman and child. It is believed the driver works “PH” along the Longdenville to Chaguanas route.
Investigations are continuing.