A 3-year-old boy kidnaped from a Long Beach day care center and then set afire by his abductor managed to cling to life Wednesday, despite burns to 60% of his body and lung damage from flame and smoke inhalation.
The boy, whose name was being withheld by authorities, was in extremely critical condition at County-USC Medical Center with third-degree burns.
The alleged kidnaper, Belinda Crawford, 28, was booked on suspicion of attempted murder at the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Station. A spokesman for the district attorney's office said she is expected to be charged today.
Los Angeles police said they were still searching for a motive in the attack. Investigators said Crawford and the boy's mother, whom they declined to identify, were friends and had worked together at a Long Beach convalescent hospital.
Crawford took the boy from the Long Beach Day Nursery West Branch on Tuesday afternoon and then drove to the 11100 block of South Willowbrook Avenue in Watts, authorities said. Crawford set her Ford Tempo ablaze with him inside, screaming, police said.
"Apparently the vehicle had a great deal of debris in it," said Los Angeles Police Lt. John Dunkin. "She simply took matches and started the vehicle on fire. Then she got out."
As horrified neighbors watched, Crawford walked away from the burning car, Dunkin said. Then she turned back and slammed the car's door shut and walked off, Dunkin said.
Nancy Arrelano, 15, ran over and opened the door and pulled the boy out. Dunkin said an unidentified man helped the girl smother the flames. Police arrived moments later.
"We saw the little boy smoking. He was screaming and crying," Officer Peggy Thusing said. Crawford was arrested when she walked back to the scene and neighbors pointed her out to police.
Investigators said the kidnaping occurred after Crawford telephoned the Chestnut Avenue day care center and impersonated the boy's mother. Center operators were told the mother was sick and that Crawford was authorized to pick up the boy.
"When this woman showed up, she signed for the boy and showed that she was who she said she was and the boy was released to her," said Sergio Ramirez, licensing manager for the state's Department of Social Services, which regulates day care centers and is investigating the incident.
"This individual had been observed several times with the mother," Ramirez said. "It appears the facility operated in good faith in cross-checking."
Mary Soth, executive director of the nursery--the oldest in Long Beach--declined to discuss the incident.
A Long Beach police spokesman said the boy's mother was filling out a report on the kidnaping late Tuesday when she saw a television report about the fire.
Long Beach neighbors of Crawford described her and the boy's mother as good friends.
Officials at County-USC Medical Center said the boy's parents stayed at his bedside in the intensive care unit all night while he breathed with the help of a respirator. The parents declined to speak with reporters Wednesday.
The boy was burned on his face, chest, abdomen, legs and right arm, said Dr. Joe Frankhouse.
Harvey Kern, a medical center spokesman, said a fund to help pay medical expenses for the boy was being set up at the hospital. Donations should be sent there to the "3-year-old Burn Victim" fund, he said.