A 36-year-old man from Torrance has been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 2-year-old girl kidnapped from a car wash, police said Wednesday.
Michael Ikeler is accused of snatching the toddler on April 2 from a self-service car wash in the 14000 block of Western Avenue in Gardena, then dropping her off two hours later in a Cudahy parking lot, according to the Gardena Police Department.
The girl's mother immediately noticed her daughter's disappearance. In a recording of the 911 call released Wednesday, she frantically told police, "I heard her scream … I heard her say, 'Mom.' "
The mother later said, "I turned around … and she was gone."
Police launched a countywide search for the girl, with photos distributed to the media that showed her earlier in the day wearing a purple backpack and a T-shirt with a butterfly print.
The girl was found about eight miles from the site of the abduction by a woman who told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that the girl was naked and held her hands over her eyes. The girl was hospitalized with unknown injuries.
Using surveillance footage, police quickly determined that the suspected assailant drove a white Nissan Altima. Days later, authorities received a tip that led to Ikeler.
Police say Ikeler owns a white Nissan Altima and changed the appearance of his car after the incident. Two witnesses have identified his involvement, and DNA evidence recovered during the investigation linked him to the alleged crimes, police said.
Ikeler pleaded not guilty April 13 to two counts of oral copulation of a minor and one count of committing lewd acts on a child during a kidnapping. He's being held on $1 million bail, prosecutors said.
The public defender representing Ikeler could not be reached for comment.