Bail Set For Alleged Baby Snatcher

Paula Lynn Roach, is seen in this undated Texas Dept. of Corrections photo. Roach, a former female prison guard, was charged with kidnapping on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2002 in the abduction of one-month old infant Nancy Crystal Chavez, who was snatched from her family's minivan in a Wal-Mart parking lot earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Texas Dept. of Corrections) AP

A month-old infant snatched from her family's minivan by a woman in a Wal-Mart parking lot was found unharmed Wednesday more than 100 miles away, authorities said. A former prison guard and convenience store worker was charged with kidnapping.

The recovery of little Nancy Crystal Chavez was the "answer to a lot of prayers," police Sgt. Kim Vickers said.

Paula Roach, a former prison guard who convinced her family that she had given birth, was accused of abducting Nancy. Roach, 24, was charged with aggravated kidnapping and jailed on $200,000 bond.

She made a court appearance Thursday, saying she understood the charges against her. The sentencing range for the kidnapping charge is five years to life in prison.

The infant was reunited Wednesday night with her parents, Margarita and Salvador Chavez, at the Abilene police station about 125 miles from where the girl was found, reports CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher. As the infant was carried into the building, about three dozen residents and police department employees applauded and cheered.

"She was content and beautiful," Sgt. David Watkins said.

"There's no words (that) can explain how I feel. My hopes never ended," Margarita Chavez said Wednesday after her daughter was found unharmed. "I trust the Lord, and I was very sure I was going to get my baby back."

Police say Roach has admitted to stealing the child. Roach grew up in Quinah, where the baby was recovered, but lived in Abilene, where Nancy was taken from. Roach had worked at a Texas prison and a convenience store.

Roach arrived Wednesday morning at the Quanah Nursing Center where her mother, a dietary manager, has worked for eight years. Roach was showing off an infant girl and telling workers that she had given birth a day earlier, said Steve Robinson, chief operating officer for Stroud-Robinson Health Care, the nursing home's management company.

Robinson said employees noticed the baby's pierced ears and healed navel and decided the baby could not be a day old. "That was a precursor to a more heightened awareness to, 'Hey, something's not really adding up,"' he said.

The workers contacted the Hardeman County Sheriff's Department, and Roach was taken into custody about 9:45 a.m. near the premises, he said.

Sheriff Randy Akers said when he stopped the teal Chevrolet Lumina carrying Roach, her mother and the baby, he also decided the baby was not a newborn. He took the baby and asked the women to follow him to the Sheriff's Department, where Roach eventually confessed, he said.

The mother, who was not implicated or charged, apparently believed the infant was her granddaughter. The Lumina belonged to Roach's mother.

"She kept telling me that it was her daughter's baby," Akers said, adding that she eventually was persuaded. "She acted real surprised."

Capt. Barry Caver with the Texas Rangers said the 1995 teal Buick Skylark used in the abduction belonged to Roach's stepfather in Abilene. After law enforcement officers had identified her as a suspect, they went to the stepfather's home, where they found the car with diapers in it.

Caver said the stepfather told them she had borrowed the car.

James Duke, warden at the Robertson prison unit in Abilene, told The Associated Press that the suspect worked as a corrections officer for about 20 months before resigning in September 2000. Vickers said Roach had lived in Abilene for the past several months and worked at a convenience store.

Police said Margarita Chavez had finished shopping Tuesday afternoon and had placed her three children — Nancy, a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old — in the minivan. She stepped about 10 feet away to return a shopping cart, then saw a woman pulling her infant and car seat into another car.

The frantic mother desperately tried to stop the getaway car and was dragged more than 30 feet in the parking lot, police said. A man heard Chavez's screams and smashed into the passenger side of the fleeing car, possibly breaking the window.

Margarita Chavez was treated for scratches at an Abilene hospital.

A surveillance video captured the getaway car circling the parking lot in "some type of stalking manner" before the abduction, Vickers said. The video was distributed to television stations, but it was too grainy to show the car's license plate number.

The abduction prompted Texas' first statewide Amber Alert, a system used in more than 40 places nationwide to track missing children by transmitting information quickly to television and radio stations.

The program, which was started in the Dallas area, is named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in 1996. Her attacker never was found.

Gov. Rick Perry announced the state program Monday and it is being implemented over the next 30 days.

In Nancy's case, authorities said police departments were notified and the governor's office sent faxes of news reports about the abduction to other media. Electronic highway signs were programmed to show information on the missing child.

The Abilene area does not have the Amber Alert system, but a police spokeswoman said word of the abduction was spread quickly to local media organizations.

"We do feel like the Amber Alert system deserves a lot of credit," Vickers said. "I think the results pretty much speak for themselves."

Cathy Nahirny of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said Amber Alerts have helped find 22 missing children. A program in California was credited with saving the lives of two teenage girls abducted at gunpoint this month.
  • Francie Grace

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.