A day after a 2-year-old was abducted and held captive for several hours, a Gardena police lieutenant said Friday he had never "seen a crime like this" in the area and asked for the public's help locating the "child predator" who injured the toddler.
Gardena police said the abductor and victim appeared to be strangers, and that the man snatched the girl, who was with her mother and possibly her older sister, from a self-service car wash Thursday around 4:55 p.m. near the intersection of West 149th Street and South Western Avenue (map).
The victim was located more than two hours later some 10 miles from the initial scene, Gardena Police Department Lt. Steve Prendergast said.
The toddler was no longer being identified by name or image Friday at the request of Gardena police, who said she was injured but did not specify how she was hurt.
“I haven’t seen a crime like this in the 20 years I’ve been in Gardena," Prendergast said at a Friday news conference.
Police did not offer a description of the kidnapper, but released two surveillance videos showing a white Nissan Altima believed to have been the car used during the abduction.
In the first video, the Nissan was seen driving down an alley behind the car wash around the same time the toddler was taken.
“The time sequence puts it very close to the time she went missing,” Gardena police Chief Ed Medrano said.
The car, described as a 2008 to 2012 four-door model, appeared to have a license plate, but the images were "grainy," police said.
“We are sending that out to every resource we have to try and get it enhanced to try and see if we can get the license plate, of course,” Prendergast said.
Police said they believe that during the abduction, the driver removed the vehicle's license plate, because it did not appear in later videos.
The girl was located around 7:15 p.m. after witnesses spotted a person in a white Nissan Altima drop her off at an unknown location near the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Santa Ana Street in Cudahy (map), Prendergast said.
"My customer just got done eating. He was parked over here. Before he left, he looks over there and sees a girl by herself, just sitting there ... He saw her by herself, so he called the cops," said Konstantinos Frousakis, owner of Jim's Burgers.
Claudia Robles told KTLA that she and her boyfriend were heading into Jim's Burgers when they saw a little girl sitting naked on the pavement in the parking lot next to a dumpster.
"My boyfriend called 911 and I grabbed a blanket from my car and I approached her," Robles said. "I kept asking her where her mom was."
Robles said the little girl kept covering her eyes and looked like she was in shock. According to Robles, the girl had scratches on her legs.
When police arrived, the child appeared to be afraid to go with the male officers and clung to Robles.
"She was holding on to me and she didn't want anyone getting close to her," Robles said. "It was actually very hard when they took her away, she was just screaming and handing her hand to me like not to let her go."
When the toddler was initially abducted, her mother told police she heard her daughter scream, "mommy," and that when she turned around her daughter was gone.
Police then scoured the area, going door-to-door with flyers and announcing the abduction on loud speakers to alert local residents, Medrano said.
Hours after the girl was located, Medrano told the Los Angeles Times that she was "OK" and unharmed, but Prendergast said Friday that she had been harmed in an unspecified manner.
"The victim was injured during the attack, to the extent of her injuries we are not releasing," Prendergast said.
The girl was taken to St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to be examined, officials said Thursday. As of Friday she was said to be resting at home with her family.
Her uncle Caesar Alvarez told KTLA that his niece was doing well and thanked everyone for their help in locating her.
Alvarez also called on anyone with information to come forward.
Anyone with information was asked to call Gardena police at 310-323-7911.