An autistic teen, whose disappearance briefly triggered an Amber Alert, took buses to make his way back home Friday after his sister's car was stolen outside a fast-food restaurant in Paramount with him inside, authorities said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said the suspect did not harm 17-year-old Frankie Barboa. Investigators were looking for a woman, whom they described as "a person of interest."
"At no time initially did we believe that it was the intention to kidnap Frankie," Lt. Charles Calderaro said. "It was a crime of opportunity, and it was basically a stolen vehicle. The suspect saw the opportunity and probably realized after the fact that Frankie was in the back seat."
Frankie was sitting in his sister's car outside Jack in the Box in the 6600 block of Alondra Boulevard, as he charged a device and waited for her shift to end there, he said.
At some point, the woman entered the car and drove away, he said. She later ditched the car and Frankie.
Frankie's sister immediately called deputies when she noticed the car was gone, authorities said. Family members told deputies that Frankie has the mental capacity of a 7- to 12-year-old, Calderaro said.
Detectives arrived and conducted a grid search of the neighborhood.
As deputies combed the area for clues, they received a call about 8:30 a.m. from a resident who saw the Amber Alert and thought the vehicle was parked outside, Calderaro said.
The vehicle was found in Paramount, about two miles away from the fast-food restaurant where it was taken.
Minutes later, investigators were notified that Frankie was safe and at home.
They learned that Frankie, who recently had learned how to use the public transit system, had taken buses to reach his home 10 to 12 miles away, Calderaro said.
"He indicated that the perpetrator was kind to him and didn't harm him in any way," he said.
Footage from surveillance cameras showed a woman — clad in a hooded sweatshirt — in the area, the lieutenant said.
Investigators planned to interview several witnesses and search the car for evidence, Calderaro said.
1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with details about Frankie's disappearance.
9:20 a.m.: This article was updated with authorities saying the teenage boy was found.