A nine-year-old girl abducted during a family camping trip in upstate New York was found “safe and in good health” Monday night after investigators lifted a fingerprint from a ransom note dropped off at the family’s home, police said.
Charlotte Sena’s disappearance kick-started a massive two-day search involving more than 400 forest rangers, police officers, firefighters and FBI agents. She was eventually found hiding in a cupboard in an RV where her alleged abductor, Craig Nelson Ross Jr., 47, was residing, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a press conference.
Sena went missing Saturday evening after riding her bike with family friends at Moreau Lake State Park. The nine-year-old decided to do one more loop around the trail on her own and was last seen biking away around 6:15 p.m.
When Sena didn’t return to the campsite, her family went searching for her. They found her bike abandoned on the trail around 6:45 p.m. and called police.
Drones, bloodhounds and an airboat were deployed to look for the missing nine-year-old. On Sunday morning, an Amber Alert was issued because police believed Sena may have been abducted.
The key moment in the investigation came when a ransom note was deposited in the mailbox of Sena’s family’s home in the nearby town of Greenfield.
Sena’s family wasn’t home because they were still searching for their daughter in Moreau Lake State Park, but police who were monitoring their home saw someone drop off the note at around 4:20 a.m. Monday. State police pulled fingerprints off the note and ran them through law enforcement databases. At around 2:30 p.m. Monday, police matched the print to Ross, who was fingerprinted in 1999 for driving while under the influence.
Investigators were able to pinpoint Ross’s residence to a camper van parked behind his mother’s home and two state and federal SWAT teams in helicopters descended on the location. Ross was arrested around 6:30 p.m. and suffered minor injuries, state police told NBC News, alleging he resisted arrest.
Sena was found inside the van hiding in a cabinet.
“After some resistance, the suspect was taken into custody and immediately the little girl was found in a cabinet,” Hochul said. “She knew she was being rescued. She knew that she was in safe hands.”
Sena was taken to a local hospital, as is customary, Hochul said, adding that the nine-year-old appeared physically unharmed and that she and her family have been reunited.
“This investigation is a culmination of multiple agencies working together for the common goal of bringing this child home to her loving family,” state police said.
The investigation is ongoing, state police added. It’s still unclear if Sena was specifically targeted by Ross in a premeditated abduction.
Jene Sena, Charlotte’s aunt, said that her niece vanished within minutes during their camping trip.
“She disappeared almost into thin air. I mean it was minutes, minutes, between when she was last seen and when she wasn’t there anymore,” Jene said.
Ross has been charged with first-degree kidnapping, though additional charges are likely, state police said.
— With files from The Associated Press