Parents of 9-year-old who went missing on New York camping trip received ransom note before daughter was found, governor says


CNN

By Steve Almasy, Michelle Watson and Artemis Moshtaghian, CNN

(CNN) — Charlotte Sena, the 9-year-old girl who went missing while on a camping trip at a New York state park two days ago, has been found safe and a suspect has been detained, authorities said Monday evening.

Before she was found, Charlotte’s parents received a ransom note at their home, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday evening.

At a late-night news conference, the governor outlined the meticulous work by authorities after they found the note – and the crucial piece of evidence that led to a break in the case.

Hochul said the break in the case came around 4:20 a.m. ET Monday when the suspect drove to Charlotte’s parents home and put a ransom note in the mailbox.

“He literally drove up to the family’s mailbox assuming they were not home,” Hochul said, adding Charlotte’s parents were still at the campground searching for their daughter.

The family’s home was being monitored by state police, but the officers had been sent to another call in the area when the suspect dropped off the note. Police tested the document for fingerprints and searched law enforcement databases to see if they could find a match.

On their second try, they got back results identifying fingerprints left on the note belonged to 47-year-old Craig Nelson Ross, Jr., the governor said.

Investigators were able to determine Ross was living in a camper behind his mother’s residence and used two SWAT teams to make entry. “They had what they call a dynamic entry tactical maneuver, and within the camper they located the suspect,” said Hochul.

Police say he resisted being taken into custody and sustained minor injuries. They found Charlotte hidden in a cabinet in the camper, Hochul said. “She knew she was being rescued,” the governor said. “She knew she was in safe hands.”

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Charlotte appeared to be in good health, but taken to a hospital, which is “customary,” the governor said.

Ross was still being questioned Monday night. “At this moment, charges have not been brought, but they are fully expected,” Hochul said.

Earlier the governor told CNN that cell phone pings from people in the area where Charlotte was last spotted also helped the authorities find her, the governor said.

“They were checking all the different cell phones that have been in the vicinity of this park,” she said. Authorities also had information from those who came to the park as campers because they had to register and people there for the day paid an entrance fee.

“So, you could start circling around possible suspects based on the cell phone data, who is in the park and also then ultimately, the ransom note,” she said.

The combination of those factors led authorities to a suspect – and to Charlotte, she told CNN.

“It was extraordinary to see how they traced it down to an individual’s home,” Hochul added. “The home was surrounded by law enforcement and helicopters, and they were able to bring her to safety. And not long after, she was in the arms of her parents at a hospital.”

Charlotte was riding alone when she vanished

Charlotte, who was camping in Moreau Lake State Park with her family, went on a bike ride with close friends around dinner time and never returned, officials said.

Charlotte had last been seen around 6:15 p.m. Saturday, riding her bike in one of the park’s loops. She had done a few loops with friends and wanted to do one more by herself, Hochul said at a Sunday news conference. The loop takes about five minutes, police said.

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Her mother reported her missing around 6:45 p.m., after Charlotte’s bike was found in the loop without her, Lt. Colonel Richard Mazzone of the New York State Police said.

Mazzone said authorities feared, after not being able to find her close by, that Charlotte may have been abducted.

“Once they found her bike during that search, they realized she’s not on it, she hasn’t gone too far, she didn’t get lost. Something’s really wrong,” CNN Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller said earlier.

Police on Monday canceled an Amber Alert that had been issued Sunday morning.

“Extremely grateful to @nyspolice @NYStateParks police, and all of our partners who worked tirelessly to locate Charlotte and ensure she could return home safely to her family,” Hochul said on social media after Charlotte was found.

The number of people searching for Charlotte had grown to 400 people by Monday morning, state police said earlier. Those helping were from 34 volunteer fire departments and private groups as well as federal, state and local law enforcement.

Before she was found, the search area had also expanded more than 46 linear miles, authorities said.

The very popular state park, roughly 45 miles north of Albany, is more than 6,200 acres and “lies amid hardwood forests, pine stands and rocky ridges,” according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Moreau Lake State Park said in a Facebook post it is closed until further notice.

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CNN’s Raja Razek, Lauren Mascarenhas, Polo Sandoval, Jared Formanek and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.