A 1-year-old boy is back safely with his mother after he was ripped from her arms during an afternoon stroll in Georgia by a couple who kidnapped the boy at gunpoint, according to police. Investigators say the couple who allegedly took the boy “planned to raise the child as their own” and may have been involved in another kidnapping attempt 15 minutes earlier.
The incident happened in broad daylight when Leslie Barrera was out with her son, Mateo Alejandro Montufar-Barrera, in Chamblee, Georgia when an Acura SUV pulled up next to her and a man jumped out and pointed a gun at her. Barrera aggressively fought back and wrestled with Maynor Dario Valera-Zuniga as he managed to grab the infant, officials said.
“She fought them tooth and nail,” said Assistant Police Chief Mike Beller said at a news conference on Monday. Police said Barrera took the gun and tried to shoot one of the assailants with it, tore his shorts and took his shoe.
Police and federal agents later tracked down the SUV about 70 miles away in Carroll County. The child was found unharmed, according to multiple news reports.
Relatives described the five-hour abduction a “nightmare” and were overjoyed that he was found.
“I thank God for the opportunity to see him again,” Barrera’s sister, Jessica Bamaca said during an interview with WSB-TV Atlanta.
Jessica Bamaca, who lives with her sister, along with her nephew and the baby’s father, Erick Montufar, said that when police found Mateo he was dressed up like a girl so the suspects could disguise him.
“We’re just so grateful toward him and toward all the people who helped us out as well. It feels comforting that he’s finally home.”
A motive in the kidnapping is unclear, according to officials.
The married suspects - Maynor Dario Valera-Zuniga and Kristin Nicole Valera-Zuniga - did not appear to know Barrera or Mateo, investigators said. Witnesses reported seeing a couple approach a woman carrying a baby, but the woman was able to escape, officials said.
Both suspects were arrested and charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, and battery, according to DeKalb County jail records. Maynor Dario Valera-Zuniga was also charged with additional counts.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has taken over the case.