A 2-year-old boy who was inside a car when it was stolen Thursday morning from his father’s driveway in Monterey County, Calif. has been found and the statewide Amber Alert has been canceled.
The stolen car and the boy were found by a passerby who thought the Honda Accord looked out of place on a ranch in nearby Gonzales, Calif. early Thursday afternoon. The child was described as being in good health. How he got there has not been publicly explained.
Police plan on interviewing the young boy to see if he can shed light on who left the car and him up in the hills.
"We feel relief," stepfather Jose Edeza said. "We are happy and we're really grateful that the authorities located the vehicle and found the child and he's safe."
Jacob Vargas was last seen Thursday morning when his father, Jesus Vargas, left his black 2015 Honda Accord running while he went back inside his home just before 7 a.m., Soledad Police Chief Eric Sills said. When the boy's father came back, his car and his son were gone from their Head Street address.
The child's mother and stepfather rushed to Soledad from Salinas after being told by police about the possible kidnapping.
After eight tense hours, police tracked down the stolen car in a shed in the remote hills of Gonzales off River Road. Officers broke into the car and retrieved the boy who was rushed to the hospital to be checked.
"Somebody was an opportunist, saw a running vehicle unattended, jumped in, and then lo and behold discovers he has a child inside," Sills said.
Last year, KidsAndCars.org documented 107 cases of vehicles being stolen in the U.S. with children that were left alone in the back seat. Already this year, the organization has documented 41 cases, including this one, seven of which happened in California, according to KidsAndCars director Amber Rollins.
"In most of these terrifying incidents, the children are unharmed, but it is extremely traumatizing for them and their family," she said. "Usually, the car thief doesn't even know the child is in the vehicle until they have already stolen it, then they ditch the vehicle with the child inside or drop the child on the side of the road somewhere leaving the child to face a whole new set of dangers."
She said it is "incredibly important" for parents and caregivers to realize just how quickly and often this happens. "It happens even in safe neighborhoods and almost always when a parent or caregiver ran in to a store or back into their home for 'just a minute,'" she said. "No amount of time is ever safe for a child to be left unattended in a vehicle. Car theft is only one of many reasons."