The parents of a 9-month-old girl expressed relief Monday over her safe return, saying they harbored no ill feelings toward her kidnaper, whom police believe called 911 to report her whereabouts shortly after midnight.
Calling her return "a miracle . . . an answer to our prayers," Raul Cortez, 24, and his wife, Melissa, 20, showed off a beaming and cooing Kaitlynn Cortez to a bevy of reporters, photographers and TV crews gathered for a news conference Monday morning.
Less than 12 hours earlier, the baby had been kidnaped in Corona, whisked away in a stolen van by a man whom police believe had no knowledge of the baby sleeping in the back seat.
"We want to thank everyone who prayed for us," Raul Cortez said. He even had kind words for the thief who caused the Cortezes heartache during the seven-hour search Sunday night. "We want to thank him because he called the Corona police and told them where they could find our van and our baby."
Kaitlynn was taken about 5 p.m. Sunday as she was sleeping in the back seat of the family's van while her parents stood just steps away, having left their Ford Aerostar to look at a rental house in Corona.
"We were only standing five steps from the van," said Raul Cortez. "The van was turned off, but the key was still in and the door was open. This guy must have been hiding right behind the van, waiting. All of a sudden I heard the door slam shut, and I saw the van start moving out, and I started screaming and rushing behind it."
Melissa Cortez also ran behind the fleeing van, yelling and trying to attract attention. But the vehicle picked up speed, turned a corner and disappeared.
"We immediately called police, and they were there in about two minutes," the father said.
The mother added: "The police and the community were very supportive."
As police launched an intense search of the Corona area, the young parents staged a vigil at Corona police headquarters. In radio and TV broadcasts, the couple pleaded with the kidnaper to return the child.
Then, shortly after midnight, while the Cortezes were at the station, a call came to Corona police over the emergency line.
"A male made the call, and we believe the man is the suspect (who stole the van)," said Corona Police Sgt. Richard Mardory. "The caller said the van could be found on Maple Street (in Corona), near the freeway." He would not identify himself.
Officers found the van about three miles from where it was stolen, with Kaitlynn sleeping inside. The baby was taken to a hospital for an examination and doctors found that she was unharmed, Mardory said.
Police described the thief as about 18 to 20 years old, 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing about 135 pounds.
Raul Cortez said he believes that the thief basically has a good heart. Holding his daughter, the father said: "I just thank him for calling us and giving us our baby back."