Police are searching for a woman suspected of stealing a car while a baby, who was later found unharmed, was left inside the running vehicle in Van Nuys late Tuesday morning, Los Angeles Police Department officials said.
Maria Elizabeth De La Torre is wanted by the LAPD on suspicion of kidnapping and grand theft auto, officials said. She is described by police as a Hispanic woman with black hair, brown eyes and standing about 5 feet tall and weighing about 130 pounds.
The incident began at about 10:15 a.m., when officers responded to a carjacking call in the 15400 block of Gault Street, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The 11-month-old baby's mother had gone to the location to pick up another child, who was being babysat by a caregiver, LAPD officials said at an early afternoon news conference.
While the mother went upstairs, she left the baby boy unattended in the vehicle, which was parked but still running, according to LAPD Capt. Billy Brockway. When the mother walked back out, she observed an unknown woman going into the car and driving off.
Her son was still inside when the car was taken, Brockway said.
Immediately after receiving the report, LAPD broadcast information about the kidnapped baby city and countywide, he said. Airships were also deployed to locate the vehicle, a white Infiniti G20 sedan.
The baby was found in the abandoned vehicle about two hours later thanks to the help of an alert public, according to investigators. The little boy had apparently been left inside alone for some time.
“While we were doing the investigation ... a citizen reported the vehicle was left with the child in the car, allegedly for a couple hours," said LAPD Lt. Manny Martinez.
Police later identified De La Torre as a suspect.
Lt. Jim Gavin said the woman was walking along the street and got into an argument with her boyfriend, became upset and saw the vehicle with the door open and the engine running.
"She jumped in and took off," Gavin told KTLA.
Detectives said a short time later, De La Torre abandoned the car with the child inside near Van Nuys Airport, about a mile away from where she took the vehicle.
She flagged down a motorist, who gave her a ride to her apartment, Gavin said. That motorist saw news reports about the missing child and contacted LAPD.
Gavin said De La Torre had a long criminal history, including grand theft auto, identity theft and narcotic violations. She was known to frequent the area of Sepulveda Boulevard and Sherman Way, police said.
The child was being examined by doctors, but appeared to be OK, officials said.
Police checked the vehicle prints and DNA in order to locate the woman. The baby, meanwhile, was reunited with his mother.
Anyone with information can contact the LAPD in Van Nuys at 818-374-9500.
KTLA's Jennifer Thang contributed to this story.