She was the last link in California's barely week-old Amber Alert System, a network of law enforcement agencies, media outlets and 500 digital highway message boards up and down the state designed to quickly notify the public of child abductions.
Amber stands for America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response, a program started in Texas after the 1996 kidnapping and murder of a nine year old girl Amber Hagerman.
Said L.A. County Sheriff's Chief Michael Solderbergh: "It worked just the way it is supposed to work and we are overjoyed. I think we can say all the planets were in alignment."
Solderbergh says he believes the two girls were just minutes away from being killed by their abductor when sheriff's deputies shot and killed Ratliff on a desolate stretch of road.
One of the two teenage victims tearfully said in an interview Friday that she never thought such a thing could happen to her.
"Don't take things for granted," the 17-year-old told KABC-TV Los Angeles. "And don't think that this ... cannot happen to you, because I didn't think, I didn't ever think, like I heard it a million times, I didn't ever think that something like that could happen to me."
The 17-year-old and a 16-year-old girl were rescued Thursday by Kern County sheriff's deputies who shot and killed the kidnapper after an extensive manhunt led to a remote desert region more than 100 miles north of Los Angeles.
"And just cherish everything you have because you don't know what you have until there's a gun in your face and it's almost all gone," the teenager said. "And thank you everyone for all your prayers. They helped us. They helped us. God was listening."
Kern County Sheriff Carl Sparks said he was certain Ratliff, 37, a felon wanted on rape charges, was looking for a place to kill and then bury the girls when he was discovered in a remote location in the high desert. Sparks said Ratliff raped the girls.
When two deputies arrived, the suspect showed a gun, according to the sheriff. The deputies shot at him numerous times while he sat in the car and struck him twice in the head, Sparks said.
The two girls were in the back of the vehicle at the time, but were not visible to the deputies when the shooting started, Sparks said.
He said the girls still had duct tape stuck on them when they were rescued but were no longer bound by it. Television footage showed the sobbing girls being bandaged for what appeared to be minor injuries.
Friends and relatives who gathered in Lancaster hugged and wept when they were told the girls were safe.
The girls were kidnapped at about 1 a.m. Thursday as they sat in two cars with male friends on a scrub-covered hilltop in Quartz Hill, 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The site near Lancaster is a popular hangout for local youth.
"He approaches with a gun and he tells me not to move, not to look at him. At this time, I was just fearing for my life," 19-year-old Frank Malero, Jr., the date of one of the girls, told the CBS News Early Show. "He made me get out of the truck and grab a tie-down from the bed of my truck, and then he grabbed my wrists and slipped them underneath my steering wheel, and then he tied them up. And then later on, he taped my mouth."
"I was just praying to God, just hoping to keep us both alive, to keep us safe," he added. "Only through God's will is that we're alive right now."
Ratliff apparently got to the area in a car he stole in Las Vegas, and drove off in a Ford Bronco that belonged to Eric Joshua Brown, 18, another of the girls' dates, authorities said. Ratliff allegedly poured gasoline over the stolen car and unsuccessfully tried to torch it.
Ratliff, accused of raping his 19-year-old stepdaughter, was charged with five counts of sexual assault in October 2001, three months after he was paroled, but was never apprehended. Under California's "three-strikes" law, he had faced life in prison if convicted.
Ratliff spent the last 13 years in and out of prison for burglary or possessing a controlled substance, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections.