The man accused of abducting an 11-year-old Springfield girl while she was on her way home from school was ordered at his arraignment Thursday to be held pending a dangerousness hearing and to undergo a mental health evaluation.
A not guilty plea was entered on behalf of Miguel Rodriguez, 24, of Springfield, who is accused of kidnapping Charlotte Moccia Wednesday afternoon and driving off with her in his car. State police issued an Amber Alert around 5 p.m. for the girl, sharing photos of the 11-year-old and the car she was believed to be taken in.
A few hours later, state troopers pulled over and arrested Rodriguez after motorists driving eastbound on the Mass. Pike spotted the car he was driving, which matched the description of the vehicle in the alert.
The 11-year-old was found in the backseat with no visible injuries.
Following the incident, authorities thanked the public for helping police to quickly locate and rescue the girl.
“What happened is I think every parent’s worst nightmare,” Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said during a press conference Wednesday evening.
Situations where a stranger abducts a small child are typically “very few and far between,” she said.
“That’s exactly what we had this afternoon,” she said of how the day unfolded. “What worked well is what we practice for, what we train for, and what I have the technology for — everybody came together, pictures were given of the vehicle, her description was given out immediately … The biggest factor I think in this was the assistance of the public. The tips coming in were amazing.”
Below, what we know about the alleged kidnapping, the man accused of abducting her, and how authorities worked to locate the missing 11-year-old girl.
‘We knew that time was of the essence’
HAPPENING NOW: Springfield Police provide an update on the abduction of an 11-year-old girl from a city neighborhood this afternoon, prompting an Amber Alert : http://bit.ly/2FTyijP
Posted by Western Mass News on Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Springfield police said Moccia was returning home from Hampden Charter School Wednesday afternoon, walking to her house, when a stranger grabbed her and took her in his car, a dark blue Honda.
Police reported that she had been last seen on Lafayette Street around 1:30 p.m.
“She was screaming, got in definitely unwillingly, and they left the area,” Clapprood said.
Maggie Kenney told CBS Boston she witnessed the abduction from her front porch. When the girl was grabbed, she screamed for her husband to call the police.
“‘Call the cops, call the cops, call the cops!’” Kenney said. “I’m screaming, yelling to wake up the neighborhood. (The girl) was saying ‘Stop! Put me down!’ It was terrible. I thought I was dreaming or sleeping. I couldn’t believe it, in the day, at 1:30 that this was going on.”
Surveillance video from her home helped investigators in the following hours, according to the station.
Clapprood said investigators knew “time was of the essence.”
“This was not the kind of case that we could go home or we could hand over or we could say we’ll continue this in the morning,” she said. “This was an absolute life and death situation for this little girl. So we dedicated all our resources to it and we had a lot of help.”
Authorities shared Moccia’s description and that of the vehicle with the public and other law enforcement agencies as they worked to make sure the situation met the qualifications of an Amber Alert. Investigators gathered videos of the girl walking home from home surveillance cameras, which they were able to share widely.
— Ryan Walsh (@PIO_SPD) January 15, 2020
“We have to go through certain steps to qualify for [an Amber Alert],” Clapprood said. “You have to be pretty certain that it’s a child abduction where we have enough information for the state police to give out an Amber Alert. And we want to be certain about that information. We gave it to local [agencies], and we were working on it a lot quicker than that.”
The Amber Alert was issued by state police just before 5:30 p.m.
Tips were coming in “left and right” about sightings of dark blue, two-door Hondas, Claprood said.
“I’m sorry if you were pulled over several times tonight, but it was worth it,” she said, addressing members of the public who may have car of a similar make or model as that described in the alert.
Around 7:15 p.m., state police said multiple motorists called 911 to report being behind a car, eastbound on the Mass. Pike, that matched the description in the Amber Alert. A reported license plate number was put through the plate readers on the highway gantries to locate the vehicle, along with eyewitness reports.
Troopers working a road construction detail on the pike in Brimfield slowed traffic to one lane and stopped the suspect vehicle.
“We quickly located Charlotte in the backseat of the vehicle and instantly removed her from the vehicle,” State Police Lt. Charles Murray, one of those who participated in the traffic stop, said during a press conference.
Troopers observed a knife in the pocket of the vehicle door and removed the driver, later identified as Rodriguez, at gunpoint. He was arrested and transported to state police barracks and eventually handed over to Springfield police.
The 11-year-old girl was transported to a hospital for evaluation. As of Thursday morning, according to Springfield police, she had been released and reunited with her family.
“We hope that she will overcome the terrible memory of this incident and have a long and happy, productive life,” Murray said Wednesday night.
His colleague Lt. Bob Ackerman, who was also at the scene when Moccia was located, said he couldn’t believe how “strong” the 11-year-old was in dealing with the situation and speaking with the troopers.
“She’s an amazing little girl,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how she kept it all together, speaking with us. It’s amazing.”
Clapprood stressed that the technological resources and help provided from other agencies, the public, and local media were all key in locating Moccia and preventing a “very different” outcome.
“They don’t happen that often,” Clapprood said. “When you’re using it you want to make sure that you’re right in using it and it’s a situation that applies. Because, God forbid, you don’t want to start using this system when it’s not a real Amber Alert.”
Both Clapprood, state police, and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno repeatedly credited the public’s response and help.
“The Amber Alert was invaluable in this case,” Clapprood said.
‘He had her for nefarious reasons’
Rodriguez is facing charges of kidnapping, assault with a dangerous weapon, and witness intimidation charges in connection with the incident, the Boston Globe reports.
His dangerousness hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Springfield police said Thursday that Rodriguez is the sole suspect in the abduction and authorities are not looking for anyone else in connection with the kidnapping.
Clapprood said the car involved in the abduction was observed in the area on Tuesday and that Rodriguez is known to police.
She said she is “very glad” authorities were able to get Moccia away from him when they did.
“We’ve all been doing this a long time … this is, thank God, it’s a rare occurrence and we know how badly this could have ended up,” she said. “He was evil and he had her for nefarious reasons, so the worst can become of this — it was a matter of finding her quickly and not giving him time.”
Rodriguez’s father, Henry, told MassLive his son has a history of schizophrenia and paranoia and that the police were called on the 24-year-old about three years ago when he first started experiencing problems.
His son wasn’t taking the medication he was prescribed, the father said, and one of the 24-year-old’s sisters had taken a restraining order out against him.
“We knew that sooner or later he was going to do something of this nature,” Henry Rodriguez told the outlet. “But not something this crazy.”
The family also received the Amber Alert when it went out. Henry Rodriguez said he and his family are sorry for what Charlotte Moccia and her loved ones went through.
“We feel really bad, you know, as parents,” he said. “We have kids ourselves. We feel relieved that the girl was found safe and sound. We were relieved that nothing happened to that little girl and that she is back with her family. We are grateful she’s all right.”