SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — For 20 hours, San Jose residents were on the lookout for Brandon Cuellar after the 3-month-old boy was kidnapped from his grandmother’s home by a mysterious man. An Amber Alert was never issued by law enforcement.
Instead, the California Highway Patrol issued an Endangered Missing Advisory and the San Jose Police Department used Twitter to ask for the public’s help for finding the baby.
Concerned citizens on Twitter urged law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert for Brandon.
Local residents, police officers, firefighters, and reporters alike breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday morning when the baby was found safe and unharmed.
Three people were arrested. Police Chief Anthony Mata said the incident was “every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Brandon was found on Mather Drive and North Jackson in San Jose, about five miles from where he was kidnapped.
“We have some of the finest detectives in the nation. Nobody went home yesterday. In less than 24 hours he was located, and three suspects are being held,” SJPD tweeted.
At a news conference held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, SJPD Assistant Chief of Police Paul Joseph explained why an Amber Alert was not issued for baby Brandon.
“We did not have information for an Amber Alert. We didn’t have, initially, a suspect vehicle. We didn’t have a license plate,” Joseph said.
Joseph pointed out that his police department did rapidly release surveillance video to the public on Twitter that showed the kidnapper carrying the baby away from the grandmother’s Elm Street apartment.
“We released what we had, as soon as we had it, which was the image of the gentleman leaving with a baby carrier,” Joseph said.
California’s Amber Alert system was named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and brutally murdered near her home in Arlington, Texas.
Law enforcement agencies issue Endangered Missing Advisories for cases that don’t meet Amber Alert criteria.
The disturbing and bizarre kidnapping unfolded at 12:50 p.m. Monday.
Brandon was first reported missing by his grandmother. The grandmother told police that she was unloading groceries when a man walked into her apartment and took Brandon.
Police released surveillance video showing the man casually carried the baby in an infant car seat away from the apartment and down a sidewalk. Brandon’s family members said they had no idea who the man was.
Brandon’s mother was at work and had left her baby in the care of the grandmother, police said. The baby’s father was incarcerated and “not in the picture” of Brandon’s life, police Sgt. Christian Camarillo said.
Surveillance video showed that the kidnapper brought his own infant car seat and white baby blanket. He doesn’t appear to be in a hurry as he casually walks down the sidewalk.
Video footage did not capture whether or not the man got into a vehicle with the baby.
Detectives had a crucial break in the case when they discovered that a woman was with the grandmother at the time of the kidnapping. The woman gave inconsistent statements when she was questioned by detectives, Camarillo said.
Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, the baby was found alive in San Jose. Paramedics put the tiny baby into an ambulance and transported him to a hospital to make sure Brandon was OK.
“The baby is in good condition. Unharmed,” Joseph said.
Simultaneously, three people were taken into custody by the San Jose Police Department, including the suspected kidnapper seen in the surveillance video.
Police said the trio has “some connection” to the baby’s family.
The FBI assisted the San Jose Police Department for the investigation.
FBI agent Scott Shelby told reporters, “A stranger child abduction is an extraordinarily rare occurrence in this country.”
A motive behind the kidnapping was not immediately released by police.
Brandon was reunited with his mother Tuesday afternoon.
“Mom is dealing with a very traumatic event. Please give her some space. She has a lot to cope with right now,” Camarillo told reporters.
“We appreciate all the information the public provided to find Brandon safely,” Camarillo said.
Joseph said the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and SJPD are collaborating to determine what charges the three people in custody will face.
“This is where the hard work also begins. Working with our district attorney and others to find more information and motives for this incident,” Police Chief Anthony Mata told reporters.
The California Highway Patrol released a description of a vehicle possibly used by the kidnapper. In a CHP tweet written Monday night, the CHP said the kidnapper may be driving a 2011 Silver Nissan Quest.
But the San Jose Police Department told KRON4 that information about vehicles connected to the case “would not be for public dissemination.”
The CHP deleted the tweet soon after.
A police officer confirmed to a KRON4 reporter that a blue Nissan Pathfinder was towed before sunrise Tuesday that was connection with the case. The Nissan was parked on Elm Street next to the apartment where the baby was kidnapped.
The Nissan had colorful stickers on the back, including one reading “Baby On Board,” another with a U.S. Army logo, and a third with a snarling tiger.
As it turns out, the 2011 silver Nissan Quest did in fact lead investigators to the baby, and the miscommunication between the CHP and the San Jose police actually helped officers track Brandon down.
A San Jose nursing home worker who saw the CHP’s tweet before it was deleted spotted the Nissan on Mather Drive and called police.
California’s AMBER Alert child recovery strategy was first launched in the summer of 2002.
The system is a partnership between law enforcement, transportation agencies, and media to “rapidly disseminate information about a suspect and victim to law enforcement agencies and the public when a child has been abducted,” the CHP wrote.
In order for a California AMBER Alert to be activated, law enforcement must fulfill the following criteria:
- It has been confirmed that an abduction has occurred, or the child has been taken by anybody including, but not limited to, parents and/or guardians.
- The victim is 17 years of age or younger, or of proven mental or physical disability.
- There is reason to believe the victim is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
- There is information available that, if disseminated to the general public, could assist in the safe recovery of the victim.
The CHP wrote, “Amber’s death had such an impact on her community that it prompted law enforcement agencies and the Texas Association of Radio Managers to develop an emergency alert plan to help recover abducted children. In 2002, (California) Assembly Bill 415 mandated that AMBER Alert plans be implemented statewide and include specific notification protocols for all communities.”