ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque, New Mexico Police have released new video of the tense moments when the first officer arrived to find the 9-month-old was kidnapped on Monday.
“It scared me. I really, I thought she was going to die,” said APD Officer Cathie Offret.
It’s not just her police instincts that kicked in when she saw little Ariana Smith, hot and dehydrated after being left alone in an SUV with the windows up.
“These calls never impacted me the way that they do now. I’ve only been back in the field about 10 months and these are the calls that keep me up at night,” said Officer Offret.
Offret is actually a new mom.
“Sorry, I asked them to bring you guys code because I’ve got a one-year-old at home and this is not okay,” Officer Offret is heard saying in lapel video.
“When we got there and there was no parent around, that’s when it occurred to me. No one was coming for this little girl,” Officer Offret told 8News sister station KRQE.
That’s when she knew she found the girl from the Amber Alert.
Ariana’s kidnapping sparked a manhunt for Lieghraughnzo Benally, who investigators say drove off with the infant in the SUV, leaving behind Ariana’s mom, who Benally had been dating for about ten days after meeting her on the bus.
Hours later, the people who live in this northwest Albuquerque home found the SUV parked in their driveway with the windows up and Ariana alone inside.
It was a surprise to neighbors.
“Well, I prayed for the little girl that they would find her safe. I didn’t know she was right down the street, you know, just a couple doors down from me,” Elaine Banks said.
Ofc. Offret tried to cool down the infant with cold water.
“I thought she had heat stroke. I really, I thought this little girl was going to die,” said Ofc. Offret.
Ariana made it to the hospital, and Offret said she looked much better on Tuesday.
“She stood up for me. She was holding on to the bars in her crib,” said Ofc. Offret.
They were reassuring signs for the mother of her own little girl.
“These are the calls that, that stay with me. Like going down to see her today, I needed to know for myself that she’s going to be okay,” Offret said.
The Children Youth and Families Department is involved in the case.
Ariana’s mom told investigators Benally may have left with the baby because he got jealous when she was talking to other guys, according to a criminal complaint.
The mother of the 9-month-old abducted in Albuquerque on Monday was arrested and charged for the incident, along with the man who took her.
Deputies say Ariana was taken from the sand dunes near Central and I-40 where her mother Karen Arviso and 23-year-old Lieghraughnzo Benally and several others were drinking.
Arviso says she was dating Benally for the last week after meeting him on a bus and he got angry when she started talking to some other men. That’s when he took off with the baby.
They say the mom was drunk and wasn’t exactly worried about her daughter or cooperative in helping find her.
It was thanks to an alert resident that the baby was found about five hours after the search began in a neighborhood near Ellison and 7 Bar Loop.
Arviso is now facing charges of child abuse, while Benally is facing child abuse and kidnapping charges.
The Sheriff’s Department says they received a tip around 11 p.m. Monday that Benally was at the In Town Suites near Pan American and Commerce. While deputies were surveying the parking lot, Benally fled on foot but was quickly taken into custody without a fight.
Besides Benally and Arviso, Marcus Harrison and Rosandra Nez were also arrested and charged with child abuse because they were drinking with the girl’s mother at the sand dunes that day. According to deputies, Harrison was also found with drugs.
Both Arviso and Benally appeared in court Tuesday. A judge set Benally’s bond at $25,000 cash or surety while Arviso, Nez and Harrison were released on their own recognizance.